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Tags: weicker | watergate | reagan | income tax | nixon

Remembering Former Governor, U.S. Sen. Weicker

John Gizzi By Wednesday, 28 June 2023 05:14 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

"Every time that guy [Lowell P.] Weicker [Jr.] would begin to speak during the [Senate Watergate Committee] hearings, I left the room," former Sen. Edward J. Gurney, R-Fla., told me a decade after he served as one of three Republicans on the televised hearings that riveted a nation and helped bring down a president.

"I thought I was going to throw up."

Gurney was referring to what many felt was the Connecticut senator's sanctimony and self-righteousness: claiming to speak on behalf of "the American people" and the Republican Party — "God knows, Republicans don't view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed," he said during the hearings — and engaging in verbal fisticuffs with the then-famous cast of characters that included top Nixon White House figures John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, and former Attorney General and Nixon campaign manager John Mitchell.

When Weicker died Wednesday at age 92, it was his role in the sensational hearings a half-century ago that was most remembered. In the increasingly Democratic Nutmeg State, the senator's niche as "Watergate Weicker" and "Nobody's Boy But Connecticut's" was key to his big reelections in 1976 and 1980.

By 1988, however, Weicker's years of undercutting fellow Republicans and his reputation as the least conservative GOP senator led to his downfall. With conservatives ranging from columnist William F. Buckley Jr. to several former GOP elected officials, Weicker was defeated by moderate Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Two years later, however, he roared back to win the governorship of his state in a three-way race. Weicker was the nominee of the hastily cobbled together aConnecticut Party and did not have a single member of his party in either the state House or Senate. 

He nevertheless oversaw the enactment of Connecticut's first-ever income tax — passed in 1991 after a tie vote in the state Senate was broken by Weicker's lieutenant governor, Eunice Groark, and a tie in the state House was broken by Speaker Richard Balducci, a Democrat.

Despite a massive protest at the Capitol featuring posters denouncing the governor as "Adolf Weicker" and several repeal attempts over the years, the income tax remains on the books.

The great irony about Weicker was that he began his career as a good-as-Barry Goldwater conservative. An heir to the Squibb and Bigelow Carpet fortunes, he graduated from Yale University and the University of Virginia Law School, settled in Greenwich (Connecticut's Gold Coast) and won election as state representative and first selectman (mayor).

When most of his fellow Connecticut Republicans backed New York's liberal Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for president in 1964, the young Weicker was a fervent backer of Arizona's conservative Goldwater.

"And when I was calling for an end to 4-acre zoning [the requirement in upscale Connecticut towns that homeowners must buy a minimum of four acres to accompany a home] in Greenwich and other towns, Lowell supported maintaining it and often debated me," the late Democratic State Chairman Ed Marcus once recalled to Newsmax.

With campaign assistance from California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Weicker in 1968 unseated U.S. Rep. Donald Irwin, a Democrat. Weicker slammed Irwin for his support of the big spending agenda of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, saying "We might as well have LBJ as our congressman." And he was no doubt helped by a liberal third-party candidate who wanted the U.S. out of Vietnam and took votes from Irwin.

Two years later, Weicker again benefited from a three-way race when he ran for the U.S. Senate. Democratic incumbent Thomas J. Dodd, censured by colleagues in 1967 for misuse of campaign funds for personal use, sought reelection as an independent. The Democratic nominee was Joseph Duffey, national chairman of the extremely liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

Weicker took shots at Dodd — charging that "his censure belies his record as an anti-Communist" — and Duffey, often repeating a remark the Democrat made to three British authors that he was "a Marxist-Leninist, but certainly not a Maoist." Duffey and the authors themselves insisted the remark was in jest, but Weicker continued to hammer it hard. He won with 43 percent of the vote.

In that campaign, Weicker benefited from appearances by Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew and, more often than not, voted with the administration. When Nixon ordered a U.S. strike into Cambodia in 1970, then-Rep. Weicker took to the well of the U.S. House to deliver a passionate speech in favor of the move.

It was only after his brush with national fame following the Watergate hearings that the Connecticut lawmaker became a high-profile liberal and embraced liberal causes at one volume: loud.

When Republicans won control of the Senate in 1980, Appropriations Committee member Weicker fought cuts in spending sought by Reagan, the new GOP president. He went to Cuba and had a convivial meeting with Fidel Castro. He vigorously opposed cultural conservatism; and in seeking to defeat legislation supporting school prayer offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declared on the Senate floor: "You play by the Constitution, not your faith."

Through it all, Weicker managed to hold elective office for more than three decades and lost only one election. He once characterized himself as one dealing with "hard-nosed politics" — and, in that sense, he was correct. He became and did what he felt he had to do and, in far more cases than not, survived. As his successor as governor, Republican John Rowland, put it thusly: "In state, local, and federal office, Lowell Weicker was a unique politician."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

"Every time that guy [Lowell P.] Weicker [Jr.] would begin to speak during the [Senate Watergate Committee] hearings, I left the room," former Sen. Edward J. Gurney, R-Fla., told me a decade after he served as one of three Republicans on the televised hearings.
weicker, watergate, reagan, income tax, nixon
Wednesday, 28 June 2023 05:14 PM
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