U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman brought his farewell tour to the State Capitol on Monday, a visit to where he began 42 years ago as a state legislator, the first rung on a ladder that took him to the heights of national politics.
"It's a sentimental time, but the most persistent emotion I feel is gratitude to the people of this state. I wish I could actually visit every person in our state just to say thank you," said Lieberman, who is leaving the Senate. Then a smile spread across his face and the man who survived losing a Democratic primary added, "I wouldn't even ask them if they ever voted for me."
The ostensible reason for a last press conference in Hartford was to announce the creation of the Joe Lieberman Connecticut Scholarship Program, which will grant up to five $1,500 scholarships annually, beginning next year.
The first awards will be made with surplus campaign funds, but Lieberman intends raise money to make the program self-sustaining. The four-year scholarships will be open to graduates of Connecticut high schools.
Lieberman, who turns 71 in February, did not seek re-election this year, an acknowledgement that his re-election in 2006 as an independent left him without a reliable political base in Connecticut.
He is scheduled to deliver his farewell speech to the Senate on Wednesday.
On Monday, he was accompanied by his wife, Hadassah, and his chief of staff, Clarine Nardi Riddle, who is a former attorney general and judge in Connecticut. He was greeted by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
He said much of his political career revolved around the State Capitol.
Lieberman was a state legislator for 10 years, including six years as Democratic majority leader in the state Senate. As state attorney general from 1983 to 1989, his office had a view across Trinity Street of the Capitol's east entrance.
In February 1988, he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate outside the Connecticut Supreme Court, across from the Capitol.
Lieberman said he will be making one last diner tour -- a staple of his four campaigns for the U.S. Senate -- in the state to make his goodbyes.
The Liebermans are selling their Washington home and will be living full-time in Stamford, close to children and grandchildren. Three of Lieberman's four children live in New York.
In a half-hour press conference, Lieberman endorsed rules changes to allow the Senate to do most of its business by a simple majority of 51 votes, not the 60 votes necessary to stop filibusters.
Lieberman said he could have won passage of two priorities -- bills on cyber security and climate change - with a simple majority.
"If you ask me what my biggest disappointment is of the 24 years, it's that I was not able to be part of a bipartisan coalition that actually got 60 votes to do something about the threat of global warming, which I feel is real and getting worse every day," Lieberman said.