Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Credit: ctnewsjunkie file photo

Connecticut’s last Republican U.S. Senator and former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, who was known for implementing Connecticut’s income tax, died Wednesday at 92.

Known for his independence, Weicker was a towering six-foot-six figure who left an indelible mark on both Connecticut and national politics.

As a Republican senator, Weicker often broke ranks with his party, particularly on social issues, establishing a reputation for principled independence. His tenure in the Senate was marked by his crucial role in the Watergate hearings, during which he was a vocal critic of President Richard Nixon.

Then in his second year as governor he forced, by sheer will, the state’s income tax into existence. His family said in a statement that as governor he “created long-term fiscal stability for a state in financial crisis.”

As he campaigned for governor in 1990, Weicker said adding a personal income tax at the state level would be like “pouring gasoline on a fire.” But when he took office the state’s budget deficit was $963 million. His staff convinced him that the writing was on the wall with respect to the state’s fiscal situation, and a tax was the only fiscally responsible choice.

Following three vetoed state budgets, Weicker, lawmakers finally passed a budget with a 4.5% flat income tax on Aug. 22, 1991. The legislation also included spending cuts and a reduction in the state sales tax from 8% to 6%.

The issue, which is still controversial, drew 40,000 people to the state Capitol in 1991 for what is still the largest protest ever recorded on the grounds.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who has been friends with the Weicker for years, said “He truly cared about implementing policies that improve Connecticut for the better, and I admire his independent way of leading. Lowell never ducked a tough battle, absolutely convinced that he was right, and he usually was. He was always bigger than life, and he always will be.”

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz described Weicker as “lionhearted.”

“As a legislator, he and Senator Ted Kennedy joined forces to end apartheid in South Africa. During his years in the Senate, he championed the rights of children and people with disabilities authoring the Americans With Disabilities Act; secured the first federal funding for research on HIV/AIDS; promoted funding for biomedical research, and sought expanded research on the world’s oceans.”

Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said “Lowell Weicker was the type of public servant all of us who’ve held office aspire to be: tough and compassionate at the same time, principled, and never afraid to take tough stances on difficult political and public policy issues. He had a long, storied career, during which he did many great things for Connecticut, and for the country. Cathy and I send our deepest condolences to Claudia and the entire Weicker family.”

Congressman Joe Courtney said Weicker’s passing “will resonate far and wide. His service to our nation and state was always driven by the public good – whether it was caring for the disabled or defending our democracy and the Constitution. He did not flinch from entering ‘the arena’ of public affairs as Theodore Roosevelt called it, to fight the good fight and in doing so, set an inspiring example of citizenship that will live on for generations to come.”

Connecticut Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo called Weicker a giant in state and national politics.

“He was unafraid to challenge the status quo, even when held by his own party,” DiNardo said. “He was the first Republican to call for Richard Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate affair; he saw Donald Trump for who he was decades ago; and he was unafraid to press for an overhaul of Connecticut’s tax laws when the state faced the largest deficit in the nation. Lowell Weicker was a public servant whose like we will not soon see again. His voice will be greatly missed.”

While his public persona was big and brash, his family says “At home, he was the center of our universe never failing in his love and enthusiasm for family. “Pop”, as he is affectionately known to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, was greatly loved and will be missed.”

Stanley A. Twardy, a former U.S. Attorney for Connecticut who is now with Day Pitney LLP, was Weicker’s Chief of Staff when he was Governor and also a former staffer when he was a U.S. Senator. Twardy recalled being a young staffer for Weicker in the U.S. Senate:

“Sometimes in the evenings, the Senate floor would have a few members there, while other senators would retreat to a hideaway that a senior senator would have in the Capitol Dome to socialize and enjoy a cocktail,” Twardy said. “My job was often to make sure the glasses were full. One night, as we were there with other senators including Ted Kennedy, Howard Baker, and Howard Metzenbaum, I poured Senator Weicker his customary bourbon on the rocks, and he told me to go ahead and pour myself one. I happily obliged, and because in college and law school I enjoyed bourbon with Coca Cola, I began to add cola to mine. Senator Weicker erupted: ‘Twardy, what are you doing?! You never add Coca Cola to good bourbon! Don’t ever do that again!’ To this day I drink my bourbon on the rocks with nothing else – it was one of the many, many lessons he taught me, and that story always brings a smile to my face just thinking about how blessed I was to know Lowell Weicker and work with him as closely as I did.”

Weicker is survived by his wife Claudia, and three sons from his first marriage, Scott, Brian, and Gray, two from his second, Sonny and Tre, and two stepsons, Andrew and Mason.