People

Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.

Lowell Weicker was born in 1931 in Paris, France. He graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1949, Yale University in 1953, and the University of Virginia Law School in 1958. He served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant from 1953 to 1955, and in the Army Reserve from 1958 to 1964.

Weicker began his political career in 1962 when he was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. He was re-elected twice and served concurrently as first selectman of Greenwich from 1964 to 1968. In 1968 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Connecticut's 4th District. He was elected to the Senate in 1970 and re-elected in 1976 and 1982.

Upon election to the Senate, Weicker was thrown almost immediately into the middle of the Watergate investigation, which he adopted with particular zeal. He conducted an independent investigation of Watergate out of his own office, often supplying both the Watergate Committee and the press with information.

Throughout Watergate, Weicker operated on the basis of a strict belief in constitutional separation of power, repeatedly noting that the Watergate Committee could not subpoena President Nixon, averring that “I think this preoccupation with the President is a bad thing—it’s a bad thing as far as my job is concerned—our job is concerned.” Instead, Weicker maintained faith in separation of federal power, arguing that the President would more fruitfully respond through press conferences and other means, instead of coming before the Committee. His regard for the President changed, however, when the administration falsely accused him of campaign finance abuses. Soon thereafter, Weicker took part in uncovering and politicizing Nixon’s financial misdealing, as the President had “donated” his papers to the National Archives.

As The Nation noted, “[t]he failure of the New Right didn’t ‘just happen.’ It took a great deal of effort. Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut deserves to be singled out. Whether one supported him in his campaign against Toby Moffett, there is no doubt that one of the shining spots on his record was his extended—and frequently lonely—battle against the court-stripping bills.” As part of his dedication to constitutional values, Senator Weicker became the nemesis of Jesse Helms, whom he initially clashed with over court-ordered busing. As Brit Hume noted in 1986, “[d]espite the support of a popular president, and despite the evidently conservative mood of the electorate, Helms has little to show for his efforts on behalf of school prayer and against school busing and abortion. Again and again, it has been Weicker who has thwarted him.” This approach, motivated by a devotion to constitutional principles, results in Weicker increasingly allying with Democrats, eventually garnering a 90 percent approval rating from Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), higher than the average for both Democrats and Republicans.

While in the Senate, Weicker worked for passage of the War Powers Act, served on the Senate Watergate Committee, advocated oceanic research, and served on the Appropriations, Small Business, and Labor and Human Resources Committees. A number of Senator Weicker’s legislative interests intersected with his belief in constitutional rights and personal liberties.

During the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Weicker began his lengthy crusade to provide federally funded education for the mentally handicapped. Working primarily with Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Weicker helped to formulate and advocate for the American Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically focusing on providing for the mentally handicapped. In addition, he was an early campaigner for funding programs for AIDS victims, as well as funding for AIDS research. Weicker defended these and other health and disabilities programs from cuts during the Reagan Administration’s two terms. Many viewed his consistent opposition to Reagan policies and appointees as a sign of his waning support for the Republican Party.

As chairman and later ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funded health and education programs, Weicker was able to block many of the Reagan budget cuts he opposed. He authored laws to protect the rights of the disabled, aid the homeless, and protect small business.

Lowell Weicker used his seniority and noted ability to work across party lines to good effect in pursuing oceans research and conservation legislation as well, redirecting the priorities of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toward oceans work. Weicker connected his interest in the environment with his concern for public transportation, and working to maintain funding for Amtrak was an initial priority of the Senator’s in the years after Watergate. 

In 1989, Senator Weicker was defeated in his run for re-election to the Senate. He subsequently decided to run for Connecticut’s governorship. This decision alongside growing distaste for the Republican Party’s increasing conservatism prompted Weicker’s formal break with the GOP: "I was a damn good Republican. It was the party that changed, not me." Weicker then formed his own independent party named “A Connecticut Party” in order to ensure that the party’s candidates would appear at the top of the ballot.

Elected Governor of Connecticut in 1990, Weicker immediately worked to pass a personal income tax, long regarded as impossible in a state with bipartisan support for the status quo. Governor Weicker’s campaign for an income tax was prompted by massive state budget deficits, as well as the need to reduce taxes on sales items and businesses. Instituting the tax prompted enormous backlash from Connecticut constituents, including the largest protest ever held in the state. Even so, the tax remains today, and Weicker’s successful work garnered him recognition as one of the recipients of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage awards: “Weicker risked his career by challenging a popular bipartisan anti-income tax tradition that was the touchstone of state politics. Despite intense political and public criticism, threats to his safety, and large-scale protests, he persevered and finally prevailed.”

Sources

  • The Nation, 1/15/1983.
  • The New Republic, 3/17/86.
  • New York Times, 5/15/1991.
  • Chicago Tribune, 6/24/1973.
  • jfklibrary.org.
  • The New Republic, 3/17/86.
  • New York Times, 5/15/1991.
  • Chicago Tribune, 6/24/1973.
  • Interview: see JC421 .C48 v.6-7 1973–74 1 BOUND-JRNL Alderman Library Stacks (Center Magazine).