Facing impeachment and a federal criminal inquiry, Connecticut Gov. John Rowland announced Monday night that he will resign on July 1. What did the governor do? And why was he forced to step down?
Once a rising star in the GOP, Rowland was first elected governor in 1994 at age 37. Rowland, who has five children and owes substantial alimony to his ex-wife, earned $78,000 a year for his first eight years on the job (he received a raise last year). In 1996, short on cash, the governor began accepting money and gifts that financed a lavish lifestyle. These secret deals often involved state contractors. One contractor rented and bought real estate from Rowland for prices two or three times the market value. Others did free work on Rowland’s vacation cottage. Still another paid the governor’s wife $15,000 to deliver a speech at a resort in Key Largo,Fla.—and covered travel, restaurant, and hotel expenses for her and her husband. State employees also did favors for him. The governor’s personal secretary loaned him more than $3,000 when she realized he would be unable to pay his bills.
What these contractors and employees may have received in return remains unclear. The companies of those who did favors for the governor were awarded state contracts worth millions of dollars, and the relatives of some employees who helped him were offered state jobs. Investigators have been unable to prove that these benefits were the result of intervention by Rowland, however. The governor maintains that although he accepted gifts, he was not bribed.
Shortly after his November 2002 re-election to a third term, Rowland’s extravagant life began to catch up with him. That month, the governor received a federal subpoena regarding his relationship with a state contractor. At first it appeared the governor would weather the investigation. In the months after the federal inquiry began, Rowland paid $9,000 to settle charges over his free vacations and $6,000 to settle charges over his use of a Republican Party credit card. He admitted no wrongdoing and vowed to hold onto his job. In December 2003, however, he confessed that he had lied about renovations to his vacation cottage. Despite Rowland’s assertion 10 days earlier that he had paid for the renovations himself, media pressure forced the governor to admit that state employees and contractors had picked up the tab. That revelation triggered a free-fall in Rowland’s public approval ratings.
In January, the state legislature convened a bipartisan committee to consider impeachment, and last Friday Connecticut’s Supreme Court ordered Rowland to appear before the committee. Rowland, who did not want to risk making incriminating statements that could be used against him in the federal inquiry, faced contempt charges if he failed to appear. Backed into a corner, the governor decided to bow to the wishes of nearly 70 percent of Connecticut residents and resigned. His trouble is far from over, however. The FBI and the IRS are continuing their investigations of the governor, and federal prosecutors may seek to indict him.