Former Wisconsin Gov. Lee Dreyfus, known for his red vest, dies at 81
Madison, Wis. — (AP) - Former Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who signed the nation's first statewide gay rights law in 1982, has died. He was 81.
Dreyfus died Wednesday at his Waukesha home while watching television, son Lee S. Dreyfus Jr. said Thursday. He had suffered from heart and breathing problems, according to a family spokesman.
Dreyfus was a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty and chancellor at UW-Stevens Point before resigning to run for governor. He was elected in 1978, defeating acting Gov. Martin Schreiber in the general election.
The gay rights measure Dreyfus signed made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Activists gathered in Madison last year to mark the 25th anniversary of the law.
Dreyfus also was a vocal opponent of the state's ban on gay marriage and civil unions, which was approved by voters in 2006.
Dreyfus began wearing a trademark red vest when he was at Stevens Point because it was easy for students to recognize him, and he kept up the tradition during and beyond his time in office.
Serving through 1982, Dreyfus earned respect for his businesslike approach to politics.
"He wasn't interested in the political maneuvering," said Tom Loftus, who served as the Democratic majority leader in the Assembly during the Republican Dreyfus' term. "He would propose something, and whatever the Legislature came up with, he would work with that."
Dreyfus once said the Legislature controlled by the rival party "forces you to think in terms of compromise. You don't have an option. Your only power is to stop things with the veto."
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle said he benefited from Dreyfus' advice over the years and that the former governor showed that politics do not have to be harsh or overly partisan.
The state's 40th governor may be remembered for his tax cuts, which he instituted in response to a more than $3 billion budget surplus, said Ken Lindner, a former UW-LaCrosse chancellor who was Dreyfus' Department of Administration secretary.
The cuts included a state tax moratorium for two months in 1979. But he was criticized for the move after a recession hit in the early 1980s. The administration had to cut the next budget by 4.4 percent.
Dreyfus was born in Milwaukee and earned his undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees at UW-Madison. He served in the Navy during World War II.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Joyce, his daughter, Susan Fosdick, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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