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Anne McDonald, 74; mastered issues as Connecticut lawmaker


HARTFORD - Anne McDonald, a former state representative known for her toughness and her keen grasp of difficult issues, died early Wednesday, legislative officials said. She was 74.

The longtime Stamford Democrat served in the General Assembly from 1991 to 2003, retiring after cancer surgery. In the final years of her tenure, she cochaired the Legislature's tax-writing committee. She also cochaired the Public Health Committee.

Her son, Senator Andrew McDonald, also from Stamford, cochairs the legislative's Judiciary Committee and took office after his mother retired.

House Speaker James Amann remembered Anne McDonald as a compassionate person with a strong will to get things done. He said that while she took no guff, her decisions were always based on conscience.

"We can all learn from that quality," Amann said.

In 2002, she went against her party's leaders and joined 16 Republicans and four Democrats to defeat the so-called millionaire's tax proposal in the Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee.

In 2001, she showed little tolerance for a request by Waterbury's mayor, Philip Giordano, to have the Legislature give the city 10 years to recover from its budget problems without a full state takeover of city finances.

"Waterbury reminds me of the old story of the mother at the parade who said, 'Everybody's out of step but my Johnny,' " Ms. McDonald said. "It's like they're not paying attention to state statutes."

She spent countless hours trying to pass legislation that would curb the power of firms that provide managed healthcare. During the 1996 session, as she tried to hammer out a compromise that failed that year, Ms. McDonald spent her nights in a $40-a-night hotel near the state Capitol. Her long commute from Stamford and painful rheumatoid arthritis made it difficult to work late nights at the Capitol.

The former sixth-grade teacher immersed herself in medical journals and interviewed doctors to learn as much as she could about the healthcare issue. A lobbyist representing opponents of the managed-care reform bill in 1996 said Ms. McDonald was one of the brightest legislators he had ever worked with, someone who grasped an extremely technical issue.

Ms. McDonald returned to the issue with dogged determination in 1997 and this time helped pass legislation on managed care that colleagues say has become a national model.

She also led the fight for legislation requiring the Department of Correction to establish a pilot debit-card system for inmate telephone calls. Inmates had been permitted to make only collect calls.

"I don't think we should be running our computers on the backs of some of the poorer families in Connecticut," Ms. McDonald said. "And don't forget, it's not the inmates who are paying these rates. It's friends and relatives who haven't done anything."

Throughout her life, she volunteered her time for various organizations, including the Stamford Commission on Aging, Family, and Children's Services; the Stamford Board of Education; and the Stamford Housing Authority.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

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