(Host) Vermont Independent Senator Jim Jeffords has decided not to run for re-election next year. His departure from the race has triggered a major shake-up in Vermont politics.
Jeffords, who dramatically defected from the Republican Party four years ago, says health problems were a factor in his decision.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) In recent weeks Jeffords and his staff members have insisted he would run for re-election next year. He hired a campaign director and had already raised about two-million dollars for the race.
But he flew back home from Washington on Wednesday to make the dramatic announcement that he’ll leave office next year after almost four decades in public service.
(Jeffords)”In no other job, do you have both the freedom and obligation to solve problems and help people on a daily basis. But it’s time to begin a new chapter, both for me personally and for the people of Vermont.”
(Dillon) Jeffords’ career led from the Vermont Statehouse, to the state Attorney General’s office, to the halls of Congress.
With his wife Liz, son Leonard and daughter Laura by his side, Jeffords said health issues played a role in his decision to quit politics. His wife is fighting cancer, and will soon undergo another round of chemotherapy. Jeffords, who will turn seventy-one next month, acknowledged that he has his own health problems as well.
He’s suffered neck and back pain in recent years, and has sometimes appeared forgetful in recent public appearances.
(Jeffords) “There have been questions about my health, and that is a factor as well. I am feeling the aches and pains that come when you reach seventy. Welcome, if you’re there, and too bad if you’re not yet. But anyway, my memory fails me on occasion. But Liz would probably argue that has been going on for probably fifty years.”
(Dillon) The hotel room in South Burlington where he made the announcement held a smaller crowd than four-years-ago, when Jeffords stunned the political world by quitting the Republican Party.
Jeffords said then that President Bush had failed to deliver on promises to fund special education programs. Now, Jeffords says he wants to continue to work on education issues when he returns to Vermont.
(Jeffords) “I am excited about coming home and working with the University of Vermont and other institutions to focus on what I think is the biggest challenge we face as a nation – the education of our children.
(Dillon) Many of Jeffords’ longtime aides were in the audience, some fighting back tears.
Howard Coffin, a historian and writer who worked for Jeffords, said Jeffords earned a prominent place in history for defying the conservative wing of the national Republican Party.
(Coffin) “But as the record is examined, there are many other reasons that justify his position in Vermont history, particularly environmental matters. As Attorney General, he worked with Deane Davis, enacted the most formidable set of environmental laws this nation has ever seen.”
(Dillon) Jeffords says he made the announcement now in order to give Vermonters enough time to assess those who want to run for his seat in 2006.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.