Senators reflect on Jeffords’ career

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(Host) After Senator Jeffords made his farewell remarks to the U.S. Senate yesterday, a number of senators reflected on Jeffords’ 32-year Congressional career.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It was clear from the comments of his colleagues, that senator Jeffords has left an enduring record in the United States Congress.

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin entered Congress in 1975 – the same that Jeffords became Vermont’s sole member of the U.S. House.

Harkin and Jeffords served together on the Agriculture committee and forged an alliance on a number of key farming issues. In an emotional speech, Harkin said he was moved by Jeffords’ quiet but firm leadership skills:

(Harkin) “And know that you have left on our nation and the world a mark for all of us to follow and how to make our nation and our world a better place. So Senator Jeffords, Jim, Godspeed. Come back now and then, come back on the floor. Retired senators have the privilege of coming on the floor. Come back on the floor and remind us why we’re here.”

(Kinzel) For the past 4 years, Jeffords has served as the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment committee. California senator Barbara Boxer will assume this role in January. She praised Jeffords’ sponsorship of legislation to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years.

(Boxer) “You have given us a roadmap on how to fight global warming, a huge challenge that we face. We cannot turn away from it because if we do, we are neglecting our responsibility. And you have, thank goodness, written us a bill that will show us the way.”

(Kinzel) Senator Minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Jeffords’ decision to leave the Republican Party in May of 2001, a move that transferred power to the Democrats, was an act of enormous courage.

(Reid) “I will never ever remember anything more vividly than the senator from Vermont as a matter of principal and courage changing not only his course, but the course of this country.”

(Kinzel) Vermont’s other U.S. Senator, Pat Leahy entered the Senate at the same time that Jeffords came to the U.S. House.

Leahy turned from his podium in the Senate chamber and spoke directly to Jeffords:

(Leahy) “You’ve served Vermont well and just as importantly, you’ve served the United State Senate well. You know after a long career I might violate the rules somewhat to addressing my friend and colleague directly after a long career. Jim you can leave with your head held high you’ve served Vermont and your nation proud.”

(Kinzel) In his farewell address, Jeffords warned his colleagues that he thinks the country is on the verge of a major fiscal crisis because Congress has voted to substantially expand the national debt to pay for its current priorities.

He urged members of the Senate to end this practice so that future generations won’t be saddled with enormous financial burdens.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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