Former Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, who in 2001 tipped control of the Senate when he quit the Republican Party to become an independent, died today in Washington, the AP reports. He was 80. Jeffords served more than 30 years in Washington, having won election to the House in 1974 as a Republican. The Rutland native, a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, already had won statewide office as attorney general and was from a well-known Vermont Republican family. His father, Olin Jeffords, had been chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
During his time in Washington, Jeffords stood out as a moderate-to-liberal Republican during a time when the party was tacking to the right. He was a strong backer of education, the environment, job training, and help for people with disabilities. Jeffords was said to be eager to run for re-election in 2006 to show Republicans that Vermont would elect him as an independent, and he had won the endorsements of state Democratic leaders. Eventually, though, the health problems he faced and those of his wife prompted him to retire after three terms. His wife, Liz, died in 2007 after battling cancer. He later lived in a retirement home in the Washington area and stayed out of the limelight. (Read more Vermont stories.)