Unlike many members of the ultra-partisan body known as Congress, Joe Lieberman never had a problem with putting the people, and his beliefs, before the party line.
On Aug. 16, 2000, then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman took the stage in Los Angeles to accept the party’s nomination for vice president.
Eight years later, Lieberman, at that point an Independent, strode to a different podium in St. Paul, Minn., to endorse Republican candidate Sen. John McCain for president.
All the while, the issues trumped the politics, Lieberman said. And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Ultimately,” Lieberman told the Business Journal, for Congress to break out of the partisan slump it’s been mired in for years, “it’s going to take leadership by the members of both parties to say, ‘I’ve worked so hard to get to Congress … because I wanted to make things better.’ Walking in lockstep to a political party or an ideology is not the way to make things better.”
Lieberman retired from the Senate last week after a career in public service that spanned a decade in the Connecticut State Senate, six years as Connecticut Attorney General, and 24 years as U.S. senator.
Now, for the first time since 1971, Joseph Isadore Lieberman finds himself without any constituents – officially, at least.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Lieberman’s retirement “marks the end of an era.”
“Whether fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, human rights over the course of his career, or on a daily basis for his constituents … Joe Lieberman has devoted a lifetime to public service,” Malloy said in a statement.
The challenge, Lieberman said, is balancing those many constituents.
“You’ve got a dual responsibility as an elected member of Congress, which is to really represent your state and give it the best advocacy you possibly can, but also to represent what you see as being in the interest of your country,” he said.
Throughout his career, Lieberman was regarded as a member of the old guard — one of a group of career legislators who responded to President John F. Kennedy’s call to service — who wouldn’t hesitate to reach across the aisle.
As an environmental advocate, Lieberman pushed for stricter pollution controls and has had a hand in nearly every climate change bill introduced in the Senate since his tenure there began in 1989.
He admitted his disappointment in the inability of Congress to pass comprehensive climate change reforms.
“We tried for over a decade to deter the advance of global warming, which, if we don’t do something soon, will threaten us in very major ways,” Lieberman said. “But that battle is not over and I know colleagues will continue it and I’ll do whatever I can outside the Senate.”
Throughout his career in Congress, Lieberman fought for the preservation of the Long Island Sound and national parks and refuges from Connecticut to the Arctic.
On education, Lieberman was a lead sponsor of the bill that ultimately developed into the No Child Left Behind policy, and earlier in his career, he introduced and played a key role in the passage of legislation to expand charter schools across the U.S.
In 2007, Lieberman was a sponsor of the bill that gave way to the America COMPETES Act, which sought to spur innovation and ensure a globally competitive workforce.
Another of Lieberman’s calling cards has been national security.
He said that among his proudest achievements while in Congress were the roles he played in the formation of the 9/11 Commission in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in the subsequent establishment of the Department of Homeland Security.
Lieberman also expressed pride in his role in bringing billions of dollars in federal transportation funds to Connecticut, and in helping to bolster the state’s defense industry throughout his time in Congress.
“The defense industry has remained one of the foundations of our state economy and today is much stronger than anyone would’ve predicted 24 years ago,” he said. “We just have great companies and great workers that turn out the greatest submarines, helicopters and jet engines in the world.”