Politics: Rowland up the river

Politics | Ex-political wunderkind won't be impeached, but may face felony rap

Issue: "Summer Books 2004," July 3, 2004

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. When Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland on June 21 announced his resignation, he escaped the blast furnace of impeachment threats. But a federal probe involving allegations of graft and bid-rigging in his administration continues to burn.

Federal investigators have already enlisted a coterie of cooperators to testify against the once-popular Republican. Chief among them: Former Rowland deputy chief of staff Lawrence E. Alibozek, who pleaded guilty in March 2003 to charges of awarding state construction contracts in exchange for gold and cash. Mr. Alibozek's crimes are emblematic of the allegations against the governor himself. Those include TV-movie-style corruption, such as allegations that Gov. Rowland had, over the years, developed an affinity for French champagne, Cuban cigars, and estate vacations-all "gifts" from contractor friends who later won business from the state.

But investigators had since 2002 probed more serious charges, such as the steering of millions of dollars in state contracts and loan guarantees in return for cash and hidden kickbacks. Gov. Rowland steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, but in June state representatives heading an impeachment inquiry subpoenaed him to testify. The administration fought the order, but on June 19 the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld it, and the governor decided to resign.

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That decision choked off a sparkling political career that included two terms in the Connecticut statehouse and three in Congress. In Washington, he racked up a conservative voting record and consistently opposed abortion. As governor, though, Mr. Rowland's pro-life convictions melted in the heat of Connecticut's liberal politics, and he ultimately embraced abortion-on-demand.

His successor, Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, will offer no fresh hope to activists fighting abortion in the state. Ms. Rell, 58, who will serve out the remainder of Gov. Rowland's term, is a member of Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), a group whose membership roll includes New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Arlen Specter, and President and Mrs. Gerald Ford. In October 2003, RMC threw a reception honoring Ms. Rell for her pro-abortion commitment.

"Her leadership on women's reproductive health issues is outstanding," gushed the RMC national co-chair Jennifer Blei Stockman. "It is no wonder that The Hartford Courant has called her 'the moral compass for the [Rowland] administration.'"

It would turn out to be a compass that couldn't find true north. Though Gov. Rowland championed the inner-city poor and proved a steady hand in a crisis-from the slayings of employees at state lottery headquarters in the 1990s to the Sept. 11, 2001, aftermath-his resignation marks his entrance into a dubious club: He will become the ninth governor in U.S. history to leave office under the pressure of a criminal investigation, but without being impeached.

The most recent was another Republican, Arizona Republican Fife Symington, who quit his post in 1997 after being convicted of federal bank and wire fraud charges that were later overturned. Arkansas Democrat Jim Guy Tucker resigned in 1996 after being convicted of two Whitewater-related felony charges.

Gov. Rowland may yet face felony charges. Had he completed his term, he would have become the longest-serving governor in modern Connecticut history. Now, though, history will likely link his name with scandal. "I think it's the scandal that will always be the opening line in his obituary," said Jon Purmont, a historian at Southern Connecticut State University. "Going out on a cloud like this, that cloud is never lifted."

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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