(Former Sen. Jim Jeffords announced in 2005 that he would not seek a fourth term. | Getty)
September 2, 2014
By Taniel Koushakjian
On August 18th, the political world was saddened by the death of former U.S. Senator James Jeffords of Vermont. His death was widely noted as he represented a principled voice in United States national politics for over 30 years before retiring in 2007 because of health problems. Those familiar with modern American politics recall when in 2001 the Senator left the Republican Party to become an Independent, effectively handing control of the Senate to Democrats in the first year of President George W. Bush’s administration. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont who declined the opportunity to run against Senator Jeffords but later succeeded him after his retirement stated, “Jim was one of the most popular elected officials in the modern history of the state – serving at the local, state and federal levels. Vermonters admired him because of his low-key and down-to-earth qualities, and because of his obvious and strong love of the state and the Vermont way of life. He was an effective champion of education, disability rights, the environment and the arts – and millions of Americans have benefited from his efforts.“
For Americans of Armenian descent, however, Jeffords was also a part of a different political history. In the 101st Congress, Senator Jeffords was an original cosponsor of S.J.Res. 212, a bill marking the 75th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide reaffirming the U.S. record. In 1990, S.J. Res. 212 made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate. Introduced by Senator Robert Dole (R-KS), the bill garnered 54 cosponsors. From February 20-27, 1990 a lengthy debate and two votes to invoke cloture on Senator Dole’s motion to proceed took place. During that week, national and international media such as ABC News, CSPAN, and the Associated Press were covering the bill’s prospects while openly discussing the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Even though he did not have a large Armenian constituency in Vermont, Senator Jeffords supported the resolution and opposed efforts to deny the United States’ own history to help save the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) opposed the bill with a filibuster and ultimately blocked passage of this important human rights issue. But, the entire Armenian American community and their friends took note of Senator Jeffords’ help and willingness to stand up for what was right. Armenian Americans remember his legacy and mourn his passing.
After Jeffords became an Independent in 2001, he also signed consecutive letters to President George W. Bush calling on him to officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
For more on the life of Senator James Jeffords please click here to read an excellent profile published by the Associated Press shortly after his death.