William Weld's latest quixotic quest: A Libertarian VP run
BOSTON >> News that William Weld hopes to run for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket may have come as a shock to longtime Beacon Hill watchers this week. Or maybe not.
During his years as Massachusetts governor in the 1990s, Weld cultivated a reputation as a quirky chief executive who reveled in the quixotic and held little allegiance to the socially conservative tenets of the national Republican party.
Weld after all once launched a bid for governor of New York — as a Republican and as a Libertarian.
Weld now is joining forces with Libertarian presidential hopeful, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, after a private meeting in Las Vegas, Johnson told The Associated Press.
Johnson said the 70-year-old Weld will bring "an enormous amount of credibility" to his campaign.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker served as Weld's health and human services and budget chief and said he considers Weld a mentor and friend.
"Those of us who've known Bill Weld for a long time know never to be surprised by anything he chooses to do," said Baker.
The long-shot duo could draw extra attention this year as voters unhappy with the Republican and Democratic candidates look afield for other candidates to support.
Over his career, Weld earned a reputation as a political eccentric.
He hung a portrait of the state's favorite populist rogue — Democratic Gov. James Michael Curley — in the governor's office, added a new phrase to the local lexicon by describing alcohol as "amber-colored liquid," and sprinkled his public speaking with a mix of historical references, baseball metaphors and general arcana.
Asked once about an early budget proposal, Weld commented: "I don't think it is the cutting of the Gordian knot. It is not a lightning strike. It is more like Vicksburg."
He also espoused an old school New England kind of Republicanism — fiscally conservative and socially tolerant — waging political battles against Massachusetts Democrats on tax hikes, but supporting abortion rights and gay rights.
Weld became beloved in the state because of his unorthodox political style. He won a landslide re-election campaign in 1994.
To celebrate the cleaning up of the Charles River, Weld held a press conference on the river banks in 1996 dressed in a T-shirt and slacks — and dove into the previously polluted waters to drive home the point, with news cameras running.
A political high-water mark came that same year, when he challenged incumbent U.S. Sen. John Kerry for one of the most closely watched Senate contests of the year. Weld held his own for a time, but eventually fell to the future Democratic presidential nominee and secretary of state.
Perhaps his most unusual move as governor was his decision to resign before the end of his second term to pursue an ambassadorship to Mexico, a move that again highlighted his rocky marriage with the GOP.
The posting was offered by then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, but was blocked by the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican from North Carolina who thought Weld was too liberal on social issues, especially for supporting the medical use of marijuana.
Few had any illusions that Weld could change Helms' mind. That may have included Weld himself.
At one news conference Weld insisted Helms' opposition had nothing to do with drug policy and everything to do with politics.
"In plain language, I am not Sen. Helms' kind of Republican," Weld said.
For many, Weld's pursuit of the ambassadorship showed how bored he'd grown with the daily grind of the governor's office, and how much he was looking for an exit.
After leaving office he tried his hand at writing mysteries, decamped to New York where he launched that unsuccessful bid for New York governor, and eventually returned to Massachusetts as a lawyer and lobbyist.
But the lure of campaigning appears to be too intoxicating.