Statement from Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., at www.senate.gov/~jeffords/ on his decision to leave the Republican Party:
May 24, 2001
Anyone who knows me, knows I love the State of Vermont.
It has always been known for its independence and social conscience. It was the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution. It proudly elected Matthew Lyon to Congress, despite his flouting of the Sedition Act. It sacrificed a higher share of its sons to the Civil War than perhaps any other state in the Union.
I recall Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders' dramatic statement almost 50 years ago, helping to bring to a close the McCarthy hearings, a sorry chapter in our history.
Today's chapter is of much smaller consequence, but I think it appropriate that I share my thoughts with my fellow Vermonters.
For the past several weeks, I have been struggling with a very difficult decision. It is difficult on a personal level, but it is even more difficult because of its larger impact on the Senate and the nation.
I've been talking with my family, and a few close advisors, about whether or not I should remain a Republican. I do not approach this question lightly. I have spent a lifetime in the Republican Party, and served for 12 years in what I believe is the longest continuously held Republican seat in the U.S. Senate. I ran for re-election as a Republican just last fall, and had no thoughts whatsoever then about changing parties.
The party I grew up in was the party of George Aiken, Ernest Gibson, Ralph Flanders, and Bob Stafford. These names may not mean much today outside Vermont. But each served Vermont as a Republican Senator in the 20th century.
I became a Republican not because I was born into the party but because of the kind of fundamental principles that these and many other Republicans stood for moderation, tolerance, and fiscal responsibility. Their party our party was the party of Lincoln.
To be sure, we had our differences in the Vermont Republican Party. But even our more conservative leaders were in many ways progressive. Our former governor, Deane Davis, championed Act 250, which preserved our environmental heritage. And Vermont's Calvin Coolidge, our nation's 30th president, could point with pride to our state's willingness to sacrifice in the service of others.
Aiken and Gibson and Flanders and Stafford were all Republicans. But they were Vermonters first. They spoke their minds often to the dismay of their party leaders and did their best to guide the party in the direction of our fundamental principles.
For 26 years in Washington, first in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate, I have tried to do the same. But I can no longer do so.
Increasingly, I find myself in disagreement with my party. I understand that many people are more conservative than I am, and they form the Republican Party. Given the changing nature of the national party, it has become a struggle for our leaders to deal with me, and for me to deal with them.
Indeed, the party's electoral success has underscored the dilemma I face within my party.
In the past, without the presidency, the various wings of the Republican Party in Congress have had some freedom to argue and ultimately to shape the party's agenda. The election of President Bush changed that dramatically. We don't live in a parliamentary system, but it is only natural to expect that people such as myself, who have been honored with positions of leadership, will largely support the president's agenda.
And yet, more and more, I find I cannot. Those who don't know me may have thought I took pleasure in resisting the president's budget, or that I enjoyed the limelight. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had serious, substantive reservations about that budget, and the decisions it sets in place for today and the future.
Looking ahead, I can see more and more instances where I will disagree with the President on very fundamental issues: the issues of choice, the direction of the judiciary, tax and spending decisions, missile defense, energy and the environment, and a host of other issues, large and small.
The largest for me is education. I come from the state of Justin Smith Morrill, a U.S. Senator who gave America the land grant college system. His Republican Party stood for opportunity for all, for opening the doors of public school education to every American child. Now, for some, success seems to be measured by the number of students moved out of public schools.
In order to best represent my state of Vermont, my own conscience, and the principles I have stood for my whole life, I will leave the Republican Party and become an Independent. Control of the Senate will soon be changed by my decision. I will make this change and will caucus with the Democrats for organizational purposes, once the conference report on the tax bill is sent to the President.
My colleagues, many of them my friends for years, may find it difficult in their hearts to befriend me any longer. Many of my supporters will be disappointed, and some of my staffers will see their lives upended. I regret this very much. Having made my decision, the weight that has been lifted from my shoulders now hangs on my heart.
But I was not elected to this office to be something that I am not. This comes as no surprise to Vermonters, because independence is the Vermont way. My friends back home have supported and encouraged my independence even when they did not agree with my decisions. I appreciate the support they have shown when they have agreed with me, and their patience when they have not. I will ask for that support and patience again, which I understand will be difficult for a number of my friends.
I have informed President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Senator Lott of my decision. They are good people with whom I disagree. They have been fair and decent to me. I have also informed Senator Daschle of my decision. Three of these four men disagreed with my decision, but I hope each understood my reasons. And it is entirely possible that the fourth may well have second thoughts down the road.
I have changed my party label, but I have not changed my beliefs. Indeed, my decision is about affirming the principles that have shaped my career. I hope the people of Vermont will understand it. I hope, in time, that my colleagues will as well. I am confident that it is the right decision.