Jim Jeffords: Do small states give lawmakers a cushion of independence?

Support for Jim Jeffords’ decision to quit the Republican Party and swing control of the Senate back to Democrats was mixed in national public opinion polling, but it was received much more favorably in his home state of Vermont.

By , Decoder contributor

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    In this March 14, 2003, file photo, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I) of Vermont (c.) laughs with Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Scudder Parker at the annual Democratic Party dinner in Montpelier, Vt. Jeffords, who in 2001 tipped control of the Senate when he quit the Republican Party to become an independent, died on Aug. 18, 2014.
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I’m up today at U.S. News with an analysis of Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords’ decision in 2001 to declare as an independent and caucus with the Democrats. As I noted in yesterday’s post, his political career was largely defined by this decision which threw control of the Senate to the Democratic Party for the next 18 months and elevated Jeffords to “rock star status” – he was on the cover of Time – at least for the moment. As Shelly Sloan notes in his comment to yesterday’s post, however, it also infuriated many Republicans who felt Jeffords had betrayed his constituents since he had just won reelection by running as a Republican. Although support for Jeffords’ decision was mixed in national public opinion polling, it was received much more favorably for the most part in his home state of Vermont. As I note in today US News post, research by Frances Lee and Bruce Oppenheimer indirectly suggests that the fact that Jeffords represented a small state probably was an important factor in his decision to leave the Republican Party.

In reviewing the tributes that poured in after Jeffords’ death, one in particular caught my fancy.  Some of you will recall that Jeffords was part of the Singing Senators, a barbershop quarter featuring senators Jeffords, Trent Lott, John Ashcroft, and Larry Craig.  According to Jeffords’ son Leonard, Jeffords was the only one of the four that couldn’t carry a tune.  “He thought he could sing, but he was horrible,” Leonard Jeffords recalled. “The dogs would start howling. Lott could really belt it out; Larry Craig had a nice voice. John Ashcroft was pretty good. My dad, I think, was just there.”  Here’s a brief clip of them on the Chris Matthews show (from a video clip of them on the Today Show). You be the judge.

Matthew Dickinson publishes his Presidential Power blog at http://sites.middlebury.edu/presidentialpower/.

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