Jeffords says goodbye to colleagues in Washington

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(Host) Independent Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords said goodbye to his colleagues today in Washington with his final Senate speech.

Jeffords will still be a senator until early next year. But the congressional term is winding down, as lawmakers rush through legislation before the midterm elections.

After Jeffords’ address, fellow senators paid their respects to Vermont’s junior senator. Chad Pergram reports from Capitol Hill.

(Pergram) Jim Jeffords succeeded Bob Stafford in the Senate in 1989.

But he first came to congress as a house member…and as a Republican. That was rare in 1974, considering Jeffords was one of only 17 Republicans elected to the house that year in a gigantic, 92-member freshman class – a consequence of the Watergate scandal.

In his speech, Jeffords said he and now Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa made quite a first impression on their congressional colleagues.

Jeffords was suffering from whiplash after a car accident when he was sworn-in.

(Jeffords) “As Chuck Grassley and I walked down the aisle of the House, he with crutches and I with a neck brace, one Democrat muttered, There’s two we almost got.'”

(Pergram) Democrats later “got” Jeffords. But not in the way…”that” democrat

In 2001, Jeffords abandoned the Republican Party and became an Independent. That tilted senate control to the Democrats.

Senate minority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said the
decision transformed Jeffords into a celebrity.

(Durbin) “He told me about walking home to his apartment at night down Pennsylvania Avenue and people who were outside at the outside restaurants and caf s would stop and stand and start to applaud. And Jim would be startled by it at first. But he received more recognition then then he I’m sure, expected.”

(Pergram) Durbin says Jeffords decision earned him what he termed the highest tribute any senator could expect.

(Durbin) “A Burlington Vermont brewery named a beer after him – Jeezum Jim’ they called it. I hope it was a popular brew, because he’s been a popular senator.”

(Pergram) In his speech, Jeffords reminded the senate about Lou Gehrig’s famous speech where he declared himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

(Jeffords) “I consider myself pretty lucky too.”

(Pergram) Jeffords said his proudest congressional moments center on education, particularly the enacting of a law that makes it easier for disabled persons to go to school.

For Vermont public radio, I’m Chad Pergram on Capitol Hill.

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