- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland, a Republican once considered a rising star in his party, resigned yesterday amid an ethics scandal that has shaken the political landscape of his state.

“I acknowledge that my poor judgment has brought us here,” Mr. Rowland said last night in televised remarks outside the governor’s mansion.

“I hope there have been times when I made you all proud or made you all smile or at least piqued your interest in this wonderful institution we call government.”

The once widely popular Republican, who was elected governor three times in the Democratic-leaning state, was facing impeachment over charges that he ignored ethics laws and repeatedly used his position to stuff his pockets with expensive gifts from state employees and friends who did business with the state.

Mr. Rowland admitted late last year that he accepted renovations to his summer cottage and then lied about it. He has insisted that he provided nothing in return

The federal government, however, is investigating the governor, and a Connecticut House Select Committee of Inquiry has been deciding whether to recommend his impeachment. Public support for Mr. Rowland — once overwhelming — has been at an all-time low, and the majority of Connecticut residents wanted him to resign or be impeached, according to a June 3 Quinnipiac University Poll.

“I thought he was doing a good job before all this,” said Susan Vallencourt, a resident of the governor’s hometown of Waterbury. “It makes you wonder whether you can trust any of them.”

Mr. Rowland, 47, was elected to the Connecticut legislature at 23, to the U.S. House of Representatives at 27 and became governor at 37. He served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and, at one point, was rumored to be considering posts in the Bush administration.

Connecticut Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell, a Republican, will serve the rest of Mr. Rowland’s term, which ends in 2006. She will be the state’s second female governor, and politicians on both sides of the aisle said she is well-respected.

Connecticut has never impeached a governor, and the last state to do so was Arizona in 1988. A handful of Connecticut governors have resigned, but none has done so under duress, said state historian Christopher Collier.

Both parties agree that Mr. Rowland’s resignation will help the Republican Party. State legislators face re-election this year, as do the state’s five U.S. representatives, and the scandal had forced many Republicans to distance themselves from Mr. Rowland for political protection.

“It certainly makes life easier for us,” said state Rep. Carl Dickman, a Fairfield Republican who considers Mr. Rowland a good friend, but privately asked him to resign. “The specter of the governor in trouble isn’t going to live with us for the rest of the year.”

Former House Speaker Tom Ritter, a Democrat and Hartford lobbyist, said the governor’s problems have been “an albatross” to state Republicans and now there is a “big sense of relief.”

Larry Cohen, who writes a column for the Hartford Courant, said most state Republicans have handled the scandal by being either “very dimly hostile” toward the governor or “very quiet.”

Calls for Mr. Rowland’s resignation have come from Republicans and Democrats, although Mr. Ritter said Republicans were more aggressive. Eleven of the 15 Senate Republicans called for his resignation. Eight of the 56 House Republicans did so.

U.S. Reps. Rob Simmons and Christopher Shays, both Republicans from the state, are facing re-election and were among the first to call for Mr. Rowland to step down back in January.

The governor’s resignation saves lawmakers from having to cast a difficult impeachment vote, which Democratic opponents could have used against them in re-election races.

George Jepsen, the state Democratic Party chairman, said last week that any Republicans who were to vote against impeaching Mr. Rowland would likely hear about it from Democratic opponents this fall.

“If someone votes to acquit John Rowland, that’s a legitimate issue,” Mr. Jepsen said last week. “He’s a very, very bad man.”

State House Minority Leader Robert Ward said Democrats still could choose to use the situation against Republicans in election races, but said that would be a “mistake,” because “the public expects us to get behind Jodi Rell” and “move beyond the governor’s troubles.”

Connecticut has voted for the Democrat in the past three presidential elections, but state Republicans think President Bush has a better chance this year. Even before resigning, Mr. Rowland sought to protect the president from the scandal by declining a post on Connecticut’s Bush-Cheney re-election committee a few months back.

But Mr. Jepsen said yesterday that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts easily will win Connecticut and that Republicans’ problems go beyond Mr. Rowland. He said Mr. Bush’s “evangelical moral conservatism” doesn’t sit well with Connecticut voters.

No criminal charges have been filed against Mr. Rowland. During the past two weeks, lawyers for the House inquiry committee have presented evidence they say shows a governor who repeatedly accepted expensive gifts, despite past ethics fines for similar conduct.

Among the highlighted incidents is a purported kickback scheme in which Mr. Rowland rented a condominium at considerably more than market price to a longtime friend who did business with the state. Mr. Rowland later sold it to the same friend, through a third party, for more than market price.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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