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CT officials react to the death of former Gov. Lowell Weicker: 'He didn’t mince words'

In 1991, Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. addressed a joint session of the House and Senate to discuss the ongoing budget battle in the state.
Hartford Courant
In 1991, Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. addressed a joint session of the House and Senate to discuss the ongoing budget battle in the state.

Former Connecticut Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. died Wednesday. He was 92 years old.

His death was announced in a statement from his family. Weicker died at a hospital in Middletown following a short illness.

Weicker, a former U.S. Senator, was known for a two decade career in Washington that included co-authoring the Americans with Disabilities Act and securing the first federal funding for research on HIV/AIDS. He was also a critic of the GOP during the terms of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Speaking on the Colin McEnroe Show in 2012, Weicker criticized Congressional Republicans of that time, saying they tended to automatically reject all Democratic proposals.

“The culture of Washington is such that regardless of whether you are conservative, or liberal, Democrat or Republican, you are there to do business,” Weicker said. “And doing business means talking and compromising.”

Weicker eventually left the GOP and won the governor’s office as an independent. While in office, Weicker ushered in the state income tax in 1991 and instituted a ban on assault style weapons.

Flags go to half staff Wednesday afternoon

With a 6-foot-6-inch frame and a shoot-from-the-hip style, Weicker was a leading figure in Connecticut politics from his first election to the General Assembly in 1962 until he decided against running for a second term as governor in 1994.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ned Lamont directed flags to half staff in remembrance of the former governor.

Lamont said he considered Weicker a friend and appreciated his counsel and political advice.

“He was a man who was bigger than life," Lamont said. "A lot of folks duck a battle, he seemed to relish a battle. He loved charging in, absolutely certain that he was absolutely right 100%. And he often was.”

Flags will remain lowered until sunset on the date of interment, which has not yet been determined.

CT officials remember Weicker's bold and commanding presence

Elected in 1990 to his single term as governor, Weicker restructured Connecticut’s revenue system, shepherding in a new income tax despite vocal opposition.

Kevin Rennie, who was a Republican member of the state legislature at the time of the income tax debate, recalled the night Weicker made his push and said, initially, it seemed like he didn't have the votes.

"But I recall looking at him, and looking around at the rest of us, and thinking, 'He's gonna roll us. He will outlast us on this,'" Rennie said. "When he dug in, he was an immovable object."

He also helped craft a compact with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation which ultimately brought casino gambling to eastern Connecticut.

Weicker, who commanded attention with a towering persona and strong voice, was remembered by Congressman John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, as “an exceptional leader who never shied away from taking on the difficult tasks of both governance and politics.”

“You always knew where you stood with Lowell Weicker," Larson said in a statement. "He didn’t mince words or sugarcoat his intentions."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who served as state attorney general under Weicker, also spoke to the legacy of the former governor.

“He was a role model in standing up and speaking out for conviction and conscience even when others disagree," Blumenthal said. "He did immense good for Connecticut and for the country.

"And he did it his way.”

Weicker was criticial of GOP during Watergate

Nationally, Weicker’s political marquee burned brightest during the 1973 hearings of the Senate’s special committee on Watergate. One of three Republicans on the seven-member panel, the freshman senator was not afraid to criticize President Richard Nixon, his own party or the attempted cover-up.

"President Nixon and his people were were huge supporters of Lowell Weicker in 1970. I think they were surprised when he became such a critical voice in Watergate and an important voice," Rennie said. "He did demonstrate that there are things far more important than party loyalty."

In his 1995 autobiography “Maverick: A Life in Politics,” Weicker said he didn’t volunteer for a spot on the committee to be an “anti-Nixon man,” or a “tough prosecutor,” acknowledging that he supported Nixon politically and how Nixon campaigned for him in 1968 and 1970.

“More and more, events were making it clear that the Nixon White House was a cauldron of corruption,” Weicker wrote. “And even as disclosures kept coming, more and more national leaders were acting as though nothing especially unusual had happened.”

Weicker inspired strong feelings among many people he met. In one poll, opinion was split over whether Weicker was “decisive and courageous,” or “inflexible and arrogant.”

Others said he was genuine. And, perhaps, a little unfiltered. But all agreed: he was influential.

"Lowell Weicker will go down as one of the most consequential leaders in Connecticut history," said Sen. Chris Murphy, in a statement. “He modeled a kind of public service that feels extinct today. He put his convictions and the best interests of the country ahead of party or political gain.

“He had a north star – what he felt was right," Murphy said. "And he took many political risks and made many political enemies to pursue that objective."

This story has been updated. Connecticut Public's Matt Dwyer, Ray Hardman, Meg Dalton, Cassandra Basler, Lesley Cosme Torres, Abigail Brone, Eddy Martinez, Kelsey Goldbach, Patrick Skahill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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