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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » CONNECTICUT » The Day Don Imus Was Governor of Connecticut
Don Imus "Campaign" Poster
The Day Don Imus Was Governor of Connecticut

By Sam L. Rothman | March 22, 2012

Voters in all six New England states elected governors this fall. Safe to say, none of those chosen will gain the notoriety of the man who served briefly as governor of Connecticut in 1992. That man was none other than Don Imus.

Don Imus

Yes, Governor Don Imus, the same Don Imus who would later be censured and fired from his job as the nation’s most popular morning radio host. For four hours on a June morning in 1992 the ever-controversial “I-Man” sat in the governor’s chair in Hartford – and what a four hours it was!

In the early 1990’s WFAN’s “Imus in the Morning” radio show attracted over a half-million listeners daily, including many New Englanders. With his irreverent humor and fast paced wit, Imus was a pioneer in a new genre of A.M. listening that has come to be called “shock-jock” radio. Today morning radio is crowded with crude, insensitive and sexually explicit shock-jock humor.

Imus was unique, however because in addition to the double entendres, sexual innuendo, and faux celebrity voices, he aired live phone-ins from dozens of real celebrities and elected officials. Imus regularly interviewed, or more correctly, irreverently pilloried governors, senators, mayors and anyone else he could get on the phone line. On “Imus in the Morning” no topic was sacred and no individual was immune.

Among his favorite targets, and a frequent call-in visitor, was then Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker.   A former U.S. Senator, the 6’4” Weicker first came to national prominence during the 1973 Watergate Hearings where he advocated for the removal of President Nixon. After three terms Weicker, a liberal Republican lost his Senate seat to Democrat Joe Liebermann in 1988. Two years later, running as an independent in a three-way race, Weicker became Connecticut’s governor.

Governor Don Imus Tee Shirt

In that role he is best remembered as father of the state’s income tax, an unpopular label that cost him his political career. But Lowell Weicker was much more than just a tax reformer or a Progressive. A large man who towered over political foes, he was a tireless advocate for the mentally disabled and a strong supporter of public education.

He was also a glutton for the verbal punishment that Imus served up regularly. After suffering Imus’ barbs on everything from his marital status to his weight, Weicker offered to give the I-Man a dose of his own medicine by “trading jobs” for a morning. On June 17, 1992, the 20th anniversary of the Watergate Burglary, the job swap took place.

Popular TV anchorwoman Connie Chung greeted Weicker’s arrival on the air by screaming, “You must be insane!” He took calls from high profile entertainers and politicians. A Nixon impersonator commented on his “goody two-shoes” or rather “goody two-chins” persona. In a call to Dan Quayle he suggested that the vice president give up politics and “play golf.”

But the real star was Don Imus. In his swearing in ceremony Mr. Imus pledged to, “raise every tax and spend every dollar, or more.” As governor, he vowed to, “take no bribe before its time.” Meeting with generals from the Connecticut National Guard he planned an invasion of Massachusetts and a takeover of comedian David Letterman’s Southport home, which he promised to turn into a bed and breakfast. He bemoaned the lack of any “real power” because he couldn’t execute any prisoners. Proclamations were issued under the title “Imus, Rex, Gubernator per diem.” A commemorative tee-shirt bears a map of Connecticut with a “for sale” sign.

Though not in the “Hall of Governors,” the tee-shirt and an Imus campaign poster hang prominently in the Connecticut State Museum in Hartford among political memorabilia of other great statewide campaigns and displays on the Charter Oak, Colt Fire Arms, Connecticut manufacturing and early American currency.

Time Magazine - April 23, 2007

While both men clearly had a great deal of fun, the job swap did little to keep either from controversy. Despite massive protests, Weicker’s income tax turned a budget deficit into a $110 million surplus. But, neither his association with Imus nor the surplus improved Weicker’s popularity. In 1995 voters elected John Rowland, leaving Weicker a one-term governor.

Meanwhile, Imus’ tenure as king of the drive-time shock jocks, continued until 2007 when sexist and racially insensitive remarks about the women of the Rutgers University basketball team led to a sharp rebuke from their coach Vivian Stringer.   While Imus had made a career of insulting and irreverent comments, his syndicated program was cancelled. Don Imus, shock-jock and former governor, had pushed the envelope too far.

Several months later an apologetic Don Imus, who still has a home in Westport, Connecticut, returned to the airwaves in limited syndication. Today he can be heard doing his morning show on a number of WABC affiliate stations. While it is only a fraction of his earlier audience, Imus maintains a loyal, mostly male following. Today fans and critics alike are mostly unaware of his status as a former governor or as a humanitarian.

For years Don Imus, along with his wife Deirdre, have donated heavily on behalf of young cancer survivors. Each year, “The Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids” hosts hundreds of children who have suffered from cancer or blood related illnesses. For a week they live the life of a rancher, riding horses and caring for animals. Imus, now 70, announced in 2009 that he himself is battling prostate cancer.

Today New England’s morning airwaves are filled with shock-jock humor, political demagoguery, call-in shows, and Don Imus wannabes. None, however, have been asked to serve as governor of Connecticut, not even for one morning.

Memorabilia related to Governor Imus and Connecticut’s seventy-two legitimate governors as well as other exhibits on the state’s past may be viewed in the State Museum located on Capitol Avenue in Hartford. Admission is free.

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