Cover image for An independent man : adventures of a public servant
An independent man : adventures of a public servant
Jeffords, James M.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2003]

Physical Description:
x, 322 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E840.8.J43 A3 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Senator Jim Jeffords's disarmingly frank memoir recounts his idyllic small-town childhood in Rutland, Vermont, his somewhat unruly adolescence, putting himself through Yale University with the help of NROTC, traveling the world during his three-year navy service, and his courtship of Elizabeth Daley when he was a Harvard Law School student." "In his first term as Vermont state senator, he supported welfare bills and environmental protection. As Vermont's attorney general, he helped draft and then implement some of the most important legislation in the nation - the bottle bill, ban on billboards, and land protection." "When he was elected to the House of Representatives, he was so broke that he lived in his office. During his congressional years, Jeffords concerned himself with issues of education, energy, and dairy farming. He was the only Republican to vote against Ronald Reagan's budget. He supported Bill Clinton's Health Care Reform and opposed his impeachment. Jeffords's disagreements with the second Bush administration and the Republican leadership led to his decision to leave the party. In My Declaration of Independence, Jeffords wrote about his decision to quit the Republican Party. Now, in this memoir, he tells us more about who he is and what he believes in and what led him to that decision." "He concludes with a section on how we must rebuild America after September 11 and why we must improve our education system."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

In 1988, after serving fourteen years in the U.S. House of Representatives, James M. Jeffords was elected to the U.S. Senate. Currently serving his third term, he is Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in Shrewsbury, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In May 2001, Senator Jeffords, who occupied the longest continually held Republican seat in the U.S. Senate, left the Republican Party, primarily because his party would not commit to increased funding for education. But it was not an easy decision--Jeffords had been a Republican since he entered politics 35 years earlier. Here the author (with the assistance of a couple of cowriters) takes us back to the beginning, to his boyhood in Vermont, his school days, his naval service. He presents himself as a strong, morally centered man whose segue into politics seemed natural and appropriate. His chronicle of his years in politics is refreshingly free of the dirt and scandal that so often taint political careers. Although some readers may wonder how much of the prose is actually Jeffords'--some passages, like "I really freaked out," seem distinctly unlike him--they'll be fascinated by his life story. The senator may have made headlines for his resignation from the Republican Party, but he'sll be remembered as a politician who served the public, not himself. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

This political autobiography by Vermont senator Jeffords will disappoint readers expecting a no-holds-barred, sensational expos of why he left the Republican Party, an act that gave control of the Senate to the Democrats in one of the biggest political stories of 2001. Instead, consistent with his endangered-species status as a moderate Republican, Jeffords writes with the sensibilities of another vanishing breed, the gentleman politician who eschews political diatribes and partisan name-calling to offer considered and principled explanations. According to Jeffords, and contrary to the pundits who attributed his actions to "mishandling" by the Bush administration, he left the party he had served for 35 years because the gap between his beliefs and party dogma had grown too wide to breach. As he describes his political service, which included time as a Vermont state senator and attorney general, the only real question is why he stayed with the party so long. His differences with Republican orthodoxy began early in his career and included his support for environmental regulations, expanded federal funding for health care and federal involvement in education, and his opposition to Clinton's impeachment. Jeffords is generally reticent about his personal life, but he does provide insights into the stresses and strains in political marriages. As it turned out, Jeffords's flight had little lasting effect since the Republicans retook the Senate in 2002, but his articulation of the difficulties moderate Republicans face working with their party's mainstream may foretell a growing polarization within the political establishment. (Feb. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Jeffords explains how values he learned in small-town Vermont eventually compelled him to bolt the Republican party, handing the Senate to the Democrats. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One On the Street Where I Lived My wife likes to say I was born into an Andy Hardy movie and remained out of step with contemporary times, that there's something inherently naive about me that keeps me from seeing things as they really are. There's a lot of truth to that statement, but if I were to pick the movie that feels most emblematic of my life story, I would choose Mister Smith Goes to Washington, or some other wholesome film that shows what life was like before we became so obsessed with speed and consumption, a time when your word meant something and people were driven by ethics more than money - or, at least, most people were. I'd also want a story with so many other interesting characters that I could step into the background and watch it all unfold. Like most people, I like to be in the limelight - but only on occasion. I have been blessed with leadership roles and important challenges. Recent events, especially my decision to leave the Republican Party in May 2001, and my integral role in protecting Americans after September 11 as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, have cast me into the national spotlight. But the best of life, I learned at an early age, is being part of something larger than yourself. My decision to become an Independent was prompted by that sense of public responsibility, something I've been trying to explain to folks ever since I made it. I'm sure it was growing up in Vermont, where my father was the chief justice of the Vermont Supreme Court and so many of our family friends were in public service, that brought me to this understanding. I was born in Rutland. Although it was the state's second-largest city until recently, it was - and remains - a place where everyone on your street knew you and you knew them. There's an inherent bond among Vermonters that's hard to explain to people from other places. It comes from our small size, both in terms of population and actual acreage. When I was growing up, Vermont had roughly 400,000 residents; we shared a value system rooted in hard work, perseverance, and a respect for the individual. Today, even in Vermont's larger cities, most folks know something of their neighbors. And today, with only about 600,000 state residents, Vermonters still regard their politicians with a sense of ownership and expectation that comes out of a neighborliness that seems quite natural - a respectful familiarity, albeit, but a sense of ownership nonetheless. Because of all of this I grew up with a security and sureness of purpose that too few people experience. There are, of course, downsides to being known too well, and of people having expectations of you. There have been times when I have felt as if my life was preordained, or that people who thought they knew me sought to make me someone I was not. But, for the most part, I count my birth in the Green Mountain State and my childhood there as gifts that provided me with a foundation on which to build an independent nature. And from very early on in life, I knew that I would serve my community and state. Like Jeff Smith of the Capra film, I grew up a wide-eyed, innocent idealist who went to Washington expecting to actually get something done and to represent the average person rather than the rich and powerful. I just didn't know any better. I was born May 11, 1934, and came to age during World War II, a time when there was little question about who the enemy was and how to define valor. Then, as now, Rutland's population was a little more than 20,000. Located in a pretty valley rich in natural resources, Rutland was the hub of commerce in my neck of the woods. We were not a hick town, nor can I describe my childhood as a rural one, although I spent most of my free time in the outdoors. The Rutland of my youth was a bustling community. People came here on Friday night and Saturday to shop, go to a movie, or simply to walk the city streets and converse with neighbors. This was the time of soda shops and specialty stores, where the shop owner knew your name and probably your size. Rutland has always been one of Vermont's most important cities. The state's two main roads intersected here. (Now interstate highways bring many out-of-staters elsewhere.) A railroad that served the entire Northeast was based in Rutland in my youth; many of my neighbors worked for it or traveled by way of it. The city had an odd mix of sophistication and working-class values, grounded in its Yankee heritage and enriched by an interesting overlay of ethnic diversity brought to us by French Canadian, Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek, Jewish, and the few African-American families who settled in Rutland and the surrounding area. Our city was the county seat, home to some of the state's oldest industries, including the Howe Scale Works, once one of the largest factories in the country, a foundry, dressmaking, and machine-work shops. To the west, the towns of Proctor and West Rutland had some of the nation's most productive marble quarries, finishing sheds, and artisans' shops. And all around us were wonderful mountains and woods, family farms, orchards, and sugarbushes. A boy could find much to do here - skiing down Kingsley Avenue and Country Club hill or, later, Pico Mountain in winter; fishing and swimming in rivers and lakes in summer; hiking at all times of year. But it was our street that was the center of my universe. My parents had met in Rutland. My mother, Marion, was a talented pianist who had grown up in Glen Cove on Long Island and attended Syracuse University before moving to Rutland to teach music and art for the entire school system. My father, Olin, was a Vermont native in a long line of Vermont natives. He had grown up in Enosburg Falls, a town way up north by the Canadian border. There, his grandfather had been a minister and his father a pharmacist. Jeffords Drug Store closed thirty-one years ago despite my efforts to save it after my aunt, Cora Jeffords Pratt, died in 1966. Father graduated from Boston University Law School, where he taught law for a couple of years before moving to Ludlow, Vermont, to work at the law firm of Stickney, Sargant, Skeels, and Jeffords. John Sargant took a leave of absence to join Vermont's President Coolidge as the U.S. Attorney General. Later, Father was asked to join the firm of Fenton, Wing, Morse, and Jeffords in Rutland. Like many young single people of the time, he took a room at a rooming house, in his case the Brock House, where my mother had been living for several years. Over time, a friendship blossomed into a romance, but I know little about their courtship. My parents weren't much for talking about themselves. One of the few stories they told of these years was that my father came into a sizable inheritance, promptly proposed to my mother, and bought a plot of land on Kingsley Avenue, across the street from where Leonard Wing Sr., his law partner and best friend, lived. They married in 1928. My mother's father, my grandfather Nicholas Hausman, designed my parents' house. He was a clever man, an architect, who taught me much about life and labor in a way that my busy father never had the time to do. The house, built near the top of Kingsley Avenue, was a lovely wooden colonial, painted white with green trim, with a center staircase, bird's-eye maple floors, and a practicality that pleased all the adults in my life. I still own that house, although I live in Shrewsbury, a rural mountain village south of Rutland. I can't bring myself to sell the family home; I doubt I ever will. We rent it out, of course, because being a politician is not the lucrative occupation some folks think it is. Everything about that house, the street, the town, seemed perfect to me as a child. If there were things in my environment that were wrong, I never knew about them, except, of course, the life and death events that no one can avoid. Arthur Guild, the principal of Rutland High School, lived at the top of our street. His sons, Malcolm and Jim, were among my best pals and have remained so throughout adulthood. Jim and I spent most of our early years together. Sadly, he passed away a decade ago of cancer. Next door to the Guilds was a duplex owned by Otis and Ethel Edson; their son Alvin, older than me by eight years, was a budding engineer and one of my early mentors. He was an inventor and for a while I toyed with the idea of becoming an inventor myself when I grew up. The Edsons' tenants were William and Cecelia Paul and their two daughters, Lillian and Dorothy, who were part of our gang. Next to them lived the Wings and their three children - Leonard, Patricia, and Bruce, all much older than the rest of us kids but friends nonetheless. Two brothers, Rex and Ned Shaw, had built houses across the street from each other just down the street from us. Rex and Betty's son, Harlow, was also part of our gang. Also living on our street was Lou Salander, the man behind the politicians and railroad magnets of Rutland, and Harold "The Hawk" Nichols, a railroad dispatcher who became a popular city mayor. I still cherish the days when I visited Nichols's railroad office. He kept track of the Rutland Railroad trains on a big master board. My desire to bring back the railroads to ease truck traffic on Vermont highways, an effort I'm involved in to this day, probably started right back there in his office. To cap off the experience of growing up in this close-knit neighborhood, Bob Stafford, my political mentor and predecessor in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, lived a stone's throw away, across Main Street. There was a vacant lot next to our house where we played a gazillion games of football and baseball and where we organized circuses in which I got to be master of ceremonies, play the clown, or try a few feats of daring. The lot is still empty but kids don't play there much anymore. That's too bad, isn't it? We had no TV or computers. We made our own fun. Mother sometimes made me practice the trumpet, but when we weren't in school or at church and if it wasn't pouring or a blizzard, we spent most of our free time outside. Parents back then were not ever vigilant in the way they are today. They didn't have to be. All the moms were home and someone was always aware of what we were up to - and not afraid to set us straight if our mischief got out of hand. I feel sorry for today's kids, having so little time to develop imaginative games and leadership skills without the constant supervision of adults. My sister Mary was eighteen months older than I was and we were very close. When I was born, she took on the role of mother's helper. Mary and I have remained close over the many decades. She was quite popular, and as we got older, she played more and more with the girls and I played with the boys - that's how it was back then. By the time I was old enough to know what my father did, he was already on the state superior court, requiring him to rotate around the state's courthouses. He was often in the state capital of Montpelier, about sixty miles from Rutland, especially after he became chief justice on the Vermont Supreme Court. All told, he was rarely home during the week, and even on the weekend, he was often away from the house. My mother was bright, fastidious, organized, and very involved in the community. She cooked our dinner and was always home to make sure we did our homework and ate together. But it was Edith Fuller, the woman who lived with us in the early years of my childhood and did most of the housework, who bestowed hugs and kisses - and Band-Aids for the occasional boo-boo. The long and short of it was that I spent most of my spare time alone or with the other boys on our street, outdoors or at their houses. I didn't mind being alone; indeed, I have always enjoyed solitude. I like to say it's when I get my best work done - in my head. * * * I have a few foggy memories of early birthday parties and wagon rides, but the first vivid memory of my youth took place a few days before Christmas 1939, when I was five. We had spent the day decorating the Christmas tree, a fresh-cut balsam that stood, year after year, in its appointed place in the corner of the roomy, formal parlor. Mother probably had 78 rpm albums of her favorite Christmas carols playing on the record player, but every once in a while she would pause from putting up the decorations to play a carol or two herself on the piano. Her favorite was "Silent Night." I loved this moment every year, as we placed the metallic glass balls, the strings of popcorn, and the tinsel on the tree and hung our stockings on either side of the mantel. But this particular Christmas I was in agony. Aldo Merusi, a photographer from the Rutland Herald, had come by to take a picture of Mary and me standing in front of the fireplace with our stockings hanging on either side of us. All the while I tried to ignore the growing pain in my stomach. At first we thought it was the dreaded grippe, but by the time I was doubled over in the bathroom, Mother realized I was really sick. She called Dr. Ed Hines, who came over right away. I can still see his kind face as he bent over me while I lay on my white chenille bedspread. The model airplanes I had hung from my ceiling were spinning around and around and I was crying softly, too weak from pain and fever to wail, although I felt like it. He poked for just a minute, then announced that we had an emergency and he had to get me to the hospital immediately. I don't know where Father had been but suddenly he appeared in the doorway, already wearing his overcoat. Mother dressed me in my new pajamas and Father picked me up and carried me down the stairs, something I can't remember him doing before or after. As we went through the door to our shiny new Buick, I turned back toward the tree, lit up as if nothing were amiss, and said softly, "Good-bye Mister Christmas Tree." As you might have guessed, my appendix had burst and I was in deep trouble. Fortunately, new sulfa drugs and penicillin treatments had recently been introduced, and Dr. Hines had refreshed his medical training so he knew what to do. He told my parents that had my appendix burst six months or a year earlier, he might not have been able to save my life. This, of course, became a family myth, told and retold, about how the boy that I was whispered "Good-bye Mister Christmas Tree" on his way to the emergency room. Curiously, my father, who was neither an overly affectionate man nor a sentimental one, was the one most apt to retell the story. Father - yes, he had a big influence on me. Of course I admired him. I knew he was an important man and that he had values. Others saw him as entertaining, a storyteller, and a rock of dependability. I saw these things, too, but I also felt his unhuggableness. I can picture him now in his dark suit with his stark white shirt and his conservative tie, making it clear that whatever he was telling me was the law and not to be argued with. Continues... Excerpted from AN INDEPENDENT MAN by James M. Jeffords Copyright © 2003 by James M. Jeffords Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 On the Street Where I Livedp. 1
2 Leaving Homep. 24
3 Ships at Seap. 30
4 Love and Lawp. 46
5 A Short Primer in Vermont Politicsp. 64
6 Maverick Republicanp. 72
7 Making Environmental Historyp. 85
8 David and Goliathp. 105
9 The Realities of Powerp. 117
10 After Nixonp. 130
11 The Walking Woundedp. 140
12 Leo Ryan, Baby Seals, Solzhenitsyn, and Energy Warsp. 152
13 Musical Homesp. 168
14 Trickle-Down Economy, the Contras, and the Evil Empirep. 174
15 The Second Time Aroundp. 188
16 Protecting Tradition, "The October Surprise," Clarence Thomas, and Working for an International Nuclear Test Banp. 193
17 Building the Case for Education in the Shadow of Gingrich's Contract with Americap. 209
18 Again the Maverick: Health Care and Impeachmentp. 231
19 The Singing Senatorsp. 248
20 The Days Before the Switchp. 253
21 Making Historyp. 273
22 The Reactionp. 278
23 September 11p. 284
24 My Challenge to the Countryp. 292
Afterwordp. 301
Appendix My Declaration, May 24, 2001, Burlington, Vermontp. 303
Acknowledgmentsp. 307
Indexp. 309