Stateline Story

Connecticut Governor Ending 2003 Under Ethics Cloud

HARTFORD, December 29 - Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland started 2003 having won a historic third term by landslide two months earlier. Now he's ending the year embroiled in an ethics scandal.

Rowland (R) is fighting for his political survival after admitting friends and state contractors, some of whom are under federal investigation, paid for a hot tub, a new ceiling, new gutters and a new heating unit in his summer home.

Five Democratic legislators have called for the governor's impeachment and five newspapers have asked for his resignation. Meanwhile, opinion polls show about half of Connecticut voters think he should resign.

With another election year approaching, Rowland's fellow Republicans aren't rushing to the defense of a governor with an all-time low approval rating of 30 percent.

However, Republicans have stopped short of calling on Rowland to resign.

Just 10 days before his Dec. 12 admission, Rowland told the public he took out loans to pay for the improvements to the Bantam Lake cottage himself.

Rowland changed his story in the midst of a federal corruption probe into his administration for alleged bid rigging. In the latest shoe to drop, newspapers reported just before Christmas that Rowland was involved in a land deal with a company doing business with the state.

But Rowland, 46, hasn't been charged with a crime and is digging his heels in for a fight. He apologized for lying, insists he broke no laws, influenced no contracts, is cooperating with investigators and plans to serve out his term.

Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano said he will abide by the request of federal investigators and not open a separate state investigation at this time into work done at Gov. John G. Rowland's cottage, the New Haven Register reported Monday.

In one of his public apologies, Rowland spoke of his "failures" and "embarrassment." But he asked the public to remember the accomplishments of his administration in education and economic development.

"As I ask for your forgiveness, I also ask for your support to keep all things in perspective and keep all things in proportion -- the good of the nine years versus the bad," he said.

Rowland's nine years have plenty of low points. Earlier this year, he paid about $15,000 in ethics fines accepting discounted vacations from firms doing business with the state and for misuse of the state GOP credit card. A deputy chief of staff pleaded guilty to big rigging. In previous years, several top staff members resigned under questionable circumstances.
The controversy over Rowland's cottage likely wouldn't have gained the same traction without the previous scandals, said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University.

"There has been an accumulation of ethical issues in the Rowland administration that in the end he has to answer to. But unless he is directly responsible for these issues, I don't think resignation or impeachment is in order," Rose said.

One positive for Rowland is that a University of Connecticut poll show that 75 percent of the state's voters oppose Rowland's impeachment, or forced removal from office.

However the same poll shows 55 percent believe the governor should resign..

A one-time political phenom, Rowland was elected to the state legislature at age 23 and to Congress at age 27. He had been mentioned for a spot in the Bush administration. Now, however, his political future is in very much in doubt.