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The Weicker Party’s Second Act

Weicker and the Late Cuban Caudillo 

“I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives…”
F Scott Fitzgerald in “My Lost City”

Senator and Governor Lowell Weicker, as everyone knows, was a misfit in the Republican Party. He considered himself a Jacob Javits Republican, but he often slipped the Republican leash and voted with left leaning Democrats. During his last years in the U.S. Senate, his Americans for Democratic Action rating was higher than that of U.S. Senator Chris Dodd. And following his imposition of the Weicker income tax on Connecticut, the ex-Republican received a Profile in Courage award from the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Weicker’s dissatisfaction with both the national and Connecticut Republican Party was hardly a secret. “Someone should take over the [Connecticut Republican] Party. It’s so small,” he once mused as Senator and, in the blink of an eye, he was able to appoint as chairmen of the state GOP Tom D’Amore, who began fiddling with it. State Republicans had opposed Weicker’s views on any number of important issues. Weicker once said that the First Amendment provided a right of freedom from religion; his views on abortion as senator were in alignment with those of current U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, labeled by some state Republicans as “the senator from Planned Parenthood”; and Weicker was expert in sniffing out and terminating any Republican in the state who gave off a foul stench of conservatism, however indistinct.

Fed up with unremitting betrayal, a bipartisan group of moderate, fiscally conservative Republicans and loosely allied Democrats booted Weicker from the Senate in favor of then Attorney General Joe Lieberman, but Weicker would have his second act in Connecticut politics.

Weicker ran for Governor as an independent, having created his own party – “A Connecticut Party (ACP)” – to do so. He won a plurality of votes from the left leaning Democrats he had been courting for years as a Republican Senator and Republicans understandably confused by his opportunistic shape-shifting.

The hastily put together ACP was always a strange bird in Connecticut politics. Weicker exited after one term as Governor. His party lingered for a while in the antechamber of Connecticut politics and eventually disappeared, political smoke blowing in a rough wind. Weicker also disappeared, popping up here and there to comment, sometimes bitterly, on a Republican Party weakened by its titular head that had refused numerous attempts to remold it into a second Democrat Party. Following a ghostwritten biography, entertainingly reviewed by Chris Powell under a masterful headline, “Mr. Bluster Saves the World,” an always cantankerous Weicker rode off into the sunset.

Weicker’s cast off ACP contraption, it now appears, may have a second act in Connecticut politics. Former West Hartford Republican Town Committee Chairman Mark Merritt and three other local Republicans — Lee Gold, Roni Rodman and Rick Bush — are rebuilding the ACP.

Gold, the highest ranking Republican on the town council, is quoted in a Hartford paper: “I’ve been frustrated and concerned about the direction the GOP has chosen to take. I was really appalled at the events of Jan. 6 at our nation’s Capitol. Liz Cheney being stripped of her position of leadership has made me continue to question where the leadership of the GOP is taking us.”

“Gold said he believes he can be more effective from outside the Republican Party. He said he has tried to shift the local town committee to a more centrist position for the past 18 months, but his efforts were rebuffed.

“’I’ve tried to change the approach but I’ve run into resistance,’ Gold said. ‘I don’t want to be part of a party that keeps saying no.’

“Gold and Merritt,” the Hartford paper reports, “said it’s time to bring A Connecticut Party back.

“’When we look back at history, at what Lowell Weicker did 30 years ago, it was about coming up with ideas and getting away from partisan politics,’” Merritt said. “We can learn from that.’”

Long before the attack on the nation’s Capitol or Cheney’s removal as Republican Conference Chairwoman, West Hartford Democrats had displaced moderate Republicans within its governing Town Committee. The times in the state, they are changing -- indeed, have changed radically. Progressive state Democrats are proposing to impose “mansion taxes” on wealthy towns like West Hartford and adjust zoning laws to make residence more “equitable” for people living in multi-family buildings.  Democrat members in the General Assembly, increasingly progressive, far outnumber moderate Republicans. Since the Weicker tax had been adopted in 1991, state revenues have nearly tripled to keep pace with ever increasing state spending.

It’s still a free country, and disenchanted former Republicans are of course free to do whatever they like. The old ACP drew votes largely from befuddled Republicans, giving Democrats an edge in campaigns, Weicker's ACP's misadventure ending in an income tax that fairly destroyed the character of the state as a prudent spending watchdog. The new ACP will fair no better. It is always dangerous to pour new wine into old wine skins, and Weicker’s cast off shoes, though large, are old, worn and soleless.  


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