Weicker on Taxes, Politics, and His Legacy Controversial Governor Has No Regrets about Bucking Conventions of Politics

Article excerpt

FROM this impoverished industrial city in southwestern Connecticut, Gov. Lowell Weicker conducts his work from a modest first-floor suite in a downtown office building.

It is appropriately spare quarters for the grim urban landscape outside, but one that is a world away from his usual work place in the ornate Capitol building an hour north in Hartford.

"Very frankly, downtown Bridgeport has next to nothing," the governor says, very frankly, in a Monitor interview. "There is a perception that downtown Bridgeport isn't a safe place to be. How do you rebuild?"

One of his answers is to maintain this "satellite" office, out of which he and his staff occasionally work. The theory is that, as he puts it, "if you want to do business with the governor of the state of Connecticut, you'll have to come down here and do it."

It is perhaps an unconventional way for a governor to try to spark an industrial renaissance, but characteristic of this longtime maverick politician.

Blunt, outspoken, independent, Governor Weicker has never had a problem doing things his way. In his three years as governor and three terms in the United States Senate, he has built a reputation as one of the country's most courageous, controversial, and unconventional politicians.

First he bucked the Republican Party to become an independent. Then he led the fight to impose Connecticut's first income tax, to name just two things. Earlier this month, he did another appropriately Weickeresque thing: he announced, abruptly, that he will not run again in 1994.

"I mean, what an adventure!" he is saying of his three decades in politics. "Granted, you have to go into it sort of being willing to roll the dice every day of the year for 30 years, which is my style, which is what I'm comfortable with. But it sure makes life interesting."

Elected governor as an independent in 1990 under his own party, called "A Connecticut Party," Weicker is leading the state through rocky economic times. One of his answers to the fiscal crisis, the 1991 income tax, prompted Time magazine to annoint him the "gutsiest governor in America."

Weicker felt he had to impose the levy to overcome a $2 billion deficit. But the move brought widespread protests - and still does - from anti-tax advocates.

"I expected it," he says simply of the criticism, blaming it on the anti-tax sentiment whipped up during the Reagan-Bush years.

Weicker was also never afraid to distance himself from the political mainstream during his days in Washington. A former liberal Republican, he gained national recognition in the Senate for his outspoken criticism of the Nixon administration during Watergate.

Dressed in a blue shirt, tan pants, tie, and suspenders, Weicker strikes a casual pose as he sits cross-legged on a sofa. Giving the appearance of a man at ease with himself, he speaks his mind on a range of subjects - including the party he left.

He calls the GOP today a "narrow band of right-wing idealogues. …