The dean of the U.S. Senate has announced it is time to step aside and not seek a ninth term.

Since 1975, Patrick Leahy has been serving Vermonters.

“It’s time to put down the gavel. It is time to pass the torch to the next Vermonter to carry on this work for our great state. It’s time to come home,” he told reporters. Home for Leahy and his wife, Marcelle, is at their farm in Middlesex.

At 81, he has had an accomplished career in politics. He has opened doors for millions of dollars to flow into the state, ranging from supporting the state’s most vulnerable populations, to securing federal assistance after Tropical Storm Irene and during this pandemic. (Likely, every town and city in Vermont has been made better at the hands of Leahy’s shrewd negotiations when it comes to federal funding.)

But he also fought for protections that directly impact Vermonters’ quality of life. He helped to preserve our natural resources, including millions for Lake Champlain, as well as the working landscape.

“Open land. Cleaner water. New markets for our farmers. Providing nutritious food for those in need. That will be a legacy to our state for generations,” he said.

He oversaw reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and has “fiercely” advocated for civil liberties. He has shaped countless policies, and through his work on protecting humankind against landmines, probably saved many lives. In recent years, he has fought the battle for racial and social justice, often invoking the words and values of his old friend, John Lewis.

Lucy Leriche, vice president of public affairs at the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, noted he has been “a steadfast champion of reproductive rights and affordable health care, holding firm on his belief that everyone who requires care should have access, regardless of their income or where they live.”

“On behalf of everyone at VSAC, I want to thank Senator Leahy for his continued efforts to make education equity a reality for all Vermonters. Access to education and training after high school is an essential component of reversing income inequality and creating career opportunities that will last a lifetime,” noted Scott Giles, VSAC’s president and CEO.

“The health of Vermonters has been improved time and again thanks to Senator Leahy’s leadership, most recently thanks to his advocacy for COVID-19 relief funding for Vermont, which in turn ensured our health care system was able to remain stable and provide services for the patients who need us most,” said Dr. John R. Brumsted, president and CEO of the UVM Health Network.

The list of accomplishments and kudos is decades long.

There is another side of the senator that has lifted Vermonters, as well.

He presented us with photographs he had taken of key moments across his career (we hope that book is also int the works, because everyone loves that behind-the-scenes vantage), and he got us excited about the Dark Knight, with his fandom for Batman. (He did, after all, stand up to Heath Ledger’s Joker in rather epic fashion.)

His retirement announcement is not entirely unexpected.

We wondered when word got out that Leahy had forthcoming memoir about his years in politics if that was a signal that the time had come.

And while Leahy has been part and parcel to some of the most contentious battles that have been fought in Washington, D.C., over the last 40-plus years, all signs point to more gridlock and stiffer partisanship that will undoubtedly require a deep pool of stamina and energy. Leahy may well be up to those fights as well, but after so many pitched battles, we also see the appeal of some solitude.

Newly minted State GOP Chair Paul Dame laid out the challenge ahead. “With a rare vacancy and the current 50-50 divide in the Senate, Vermont Republicans will enjoy an incredible opportunity to recruit the kind of high caliber candidate to win this seat and make Vermont more competitive than ever before. … With national Democrats fracturing between the volatile Progressive wing and the Democratic establishment wing of the party, it will be interesting to see if backroom arrangements have already been made to tip the scales and appoint someone before his term ends, or to force certain interested Democrats to ‘wait their turn.’ If Democrats have not already pre-arranged this outcome and bypassed their party’s voters, we can expect to see a divisive primary to replace a man who was able to keep the peace due to his power and influence — but will be able to do so no longer.”

Like the rest of the state, we offer our thanks for a career of distinguished service and accomplishment. And we remain eager to see just who lines up (and who lines up behind them) to fill the dean’s shoes.

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