Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s ’64 LAW ’67 career in elected office may be ending in 2013, but he will not be riding into the political sunset just yet.
In a speech last Wednesday announcing his plans to retire after serving four terms in the Senate, Lieberman pledged to continue fighting for the causes he is passionate about. And as he moves forward, politicos interviewed confirmed that they expect him to stay true to that pledge, and that his influence on Capitol Hill could even grow now that the weight of re-election is off his shoulders.
Many who in the past may have been unlikely to work with Lieberman for political reasons will now be more willing to seek him out, said Scott McLean, a professor of political science at Quinnipiac University. And Lieberman himself will have more freedom to act without concern for an action’s political implications, he added.
“It will make him significantly more influential,” McLean said. “It liberates a senator from the appearance that his decisions and actions are part of a political re-election tactic. … It enhances his ability to get things done.”
In addition, because he no longer needs to fundraise for re-election, Lieberman will be able to spend more time working in the Senate, McLean added.
But U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat whose district includes New Haven, does not think Lieberman will change much now that he’s entering his final years in elected office. She said she expects to continue working with Lieberman on job creation and bolstering the economy, pointing to Lieberman’s career of “bridging the partisan gap”.
“I suppose when one is mindful that they’re not running for re-election, it allows more latitude,” she said. “But I don’t think he’s been afraid to stand up for what he believes in.”
After Lieberman’s announcement, kind words flowed in from both sides of the political aisle as politicians congratulated him on a long, productive career of bipartisanship, many of which came from politicians who in the past had criticized or publicly squabbled with the embattled independent senator.
Alvin Felzenberg, a lecturer in the Political Science Department and former spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, said despite Lieberman’s low approval ratings, he expects that history will remember Lieberman kindly for always voting his conscience.
At times, that willingness to stand up for what he believes has drawn sharp criticism from both parties. When she announced her plans to run for Senate in 2012, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 immediately attacked Lieberman’s record.
“We need a senator who is 100 percent focused on helping our state, and Senator Joe Lieberman has been focused on everything but Connecticut,” Bysiewicz said in a statement Tuesday.
But the very next day, once Lieberman had announced he would step down after this term, even Bysiewicz praised her onetime opponent.
“I wish Sen. Joe Lieberman and his family all the best. Although we disagreed on certain issues, I have deep respect for his decades of public service,” Bysiewicz wrote on her official Facebook page.
And in an era of major earmarking of federal funds, those decades of service have come in handy for Lieberman and the state of Connecticut.
Lieberman remains the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, but once he is out of office, Connecticut will be represented in the Senate by two freshman senators, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73. While DeLauro maintained that Connecticut will be well-represented even without an experienced senator, McLean cautioned that it could be a problem in committee assignments.
“Connecticut is losing a great deal of clout,” Felzenberg said, as both Dodd and Lieberman were committee chairmen.
U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has also announced he will run to replace Lieberman in the Senate. A grassroots movement began online this weekend when a blogger for the liberal site Daily Kos suggested that Democrats draft former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann to run in 2012. Olbermann has yet to comment publicly on the matter, and McLean dismissed the fledgling effort.
So far, over 1,300 people have supported the movement via a Facebook page, and the Twitter account “DraftOlbermann” has 400 followers.