RUTLAND (AP) - The Vermont congressional delegation and other dignitaries from across the state are due in Rutland for the funeral of former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords who died earlier this week at age 80.
Jeffords was a former U.S. senator probably most well known nationally for leaving the Republican Party in 2001 to become an independent, turning control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats during the early years of former President George W. Bush's administration.
Jeffords, who was elected to the Senate in 1988 and retired in 2007, was seen as one of the disappearing breed of moderate-to-liberal Northeast Republicans. He was known for championing the environment, education and the rights of disabled Americans.
Jeffords was a former naval officer and state attorney general who was elected to the U.S. House in 1974.
In his first year in Congress, Jeffords helped pass the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and he remained a champion of disabled Americans throughout his career. He called President Bush's opposition to an update of that legislation the last straw that led to his leaving the party.
He was a staunch defender of Vermont dairy farmers and led efforts to update federal dairy price supports. He was an early supporter of gay rights, particularly in the workplace.
He also was a strong environmentalist: The last major legislation he offered before leaving the Senate in 2006 was to combat climate change.
The funeral for Jeffords is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Friday at the Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Rutland.