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Lowell Weicker Is Back On The Scene With A Lot To Say

Rick Green

July 13, 2010

That cranky old guy banging his cane is still the politician most worth a listen.

This summer marks the return of the bear, Lowell P. Weicker, who is back like Rip Van Winkle and swinging at pretty much anyone within earshot, including those he likes.

The message from the father of our state income tax is a grim one: If you thought his tax was a drag, wait till you see what the next governor is going to have to do.

"I don't know if things can get much worse than they are now,'' Weicker told me when we squeezed in a conversation before he was off to a radio interview. "You just have to cut the hell out of your spending. I'm sorry that's going to impact on a lot of people, but [the income tax] impacted on a lot of people in 1990.''

Unlike the Democrats and Republicans running for governor, he's willing to admit that it isn't just spending cuts that will be required more income taxes may have to be part of the solution if Connecticut is going to get out of a projected deficit of more than $3 billion for 2012.

Perhaps it's Weicker's nostalgia for the 20th anniversary of his election as governor, but the former first selectman, state legislator, U.S. senator and governor can't keep to himself down in East Lyme, where he lives, votes and pays taxes. Like his nemesis Richard Nixon did late in life, Weicker seems eager to show that his views are still relevant. Unlike the crook Nixon, Weicker is an honest politico we should pay attention to.

Lately, he's been showing up on TV and radio talk shows, in newspapers and blogs, and speaking to municipal leaders, repeating that we are one "very drunk state" in need of "a very cold shower."

Our leadership-challenged candidates for governor ought to listen, because Connecticut's next chief executive has got to have the backbone and nerve of a Lowell Weicker.

"When you see a state get hurt you can either sit there and rub your hands together or you can try and do something about it," he said. "This isn't the first time of recent vintage that I've spoken up. I spoke up about that war in Iraq. If we see something that's bad, we should step up to the plate and make our views known."

From Republicans ("the party of 'no'") to the Democrats (the party of reckless spending) to U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal ("unqualified") to state employee unions ("part of the problem") to Linda McMahon ("a fine, nice lady") to Obama ("I'd vote for him tomorrow"), the 79-year-old Weicker's frank views are refreshing.

"These are dangerous times both in this country and in this state. You've got an electorate that is absolutely roaming around looking for leadership and seeing none,'' he said. "Would you move to Connecticut? No, not right now I wouldn't not unless there is a concerted effort to go ahead and reverse these matters related to taxation and the cost of doing business.''

It's more than a little provocative to hear Weicker decry taxes, when he gave us the income tax, but he's still right: It isn't the income tax that is driving business and jobs from Connecticut.

"People love to talk about the income tax. Yet there was also a reduction in the sales tax and elimination of capital gains. Other business taxes were eliminated. You are going to have to do that again to encourage business."

Weicker has endorsed Ned Lamont for his "guts," but when we spoke he said Lamont was making a mistake not to debate Dan Malloy. He also effusively praised another, independent, gubernatorial candidate: "I tell you who I really like is Tom Marsh, the first selectman of Chester. He's a good guy with a lot of solid ideas."

He defends World Wrestling Entertainment where he sits on the corporate board and calls it "family entertainment" and speaks highly of its former CEO, Senate candidate Linda McMahon. But he says that McMahon has made a fatal mistake in embracing her party's opposition to health care reform. Rob Simmons, Weicker says, would be the stronger candidate against Blumenthal.

"People,'' Weicker said, "are just yearning for somebody to stand up."

It's not just that. After a felon and a caretaker have had the job, we could use another Lowell Weicker in the governor's office.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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