Rowland scandal merits student attention

A month ago, state and federal investigations of corruption within the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland revealed that the governor himself was not above the suspected offenses. The investigations turned up evidence that the three-term Republican governor had accepted free work on his Connecticut vacation home by state contractors and employees — allegations that Rowland later admitted were true, prompting the state House of Representatives to form a bipartisan committee to investigate Rowland’s possible impeachment.

Despite an ever-widening call for Rowland’s resignation, some have expressed concern that the committee investigation will overshadow, distract from, and even prevent substantive legislative work. It would indeed be a shame if the possible impeachment proceedings prevented real legislative work, but it would be a greater shame if such an investigation was subordinated by fears that it might distract from business as usual.

Rowland initially denied the charges against him, but later admitted that he had lied about accepting the work on his Litchfield house. However, Rowland maintains that the state employees received no favorable treatment for their gifts, and he has publicly apologized for accepting the work and for lying about it. But polls reveal that most state residents are in favor of his resignation and Rowland’s job indeed seemed in trouble when two of the three Republicans representing Connecticut in the U.S. Congress joined in calling for his resignation.

But it seems clear that Rowland refuses to resign, and an impeachment probe will likely take several months. The state is in the midst of a severe budget crisis, and worries that this investigation will distract from solving it are valid. When it goes back into session next month, the state’s General Assembly faces a long and protracted debate about balancing the budget, and some fear that the assembly will be unable to focus on that and other important initiatives, with Rowland in the spotlight.

It’s a shame that a corrupt politician can so distract from substantive issues. But how Connecticut, which has never impeached a governor, handles this investigation will set a precedent; we would hate for that precedent to be that politicians can get away with their offenses if the budget crisis — in which Rowland played no small part — is great enough. Not that we are necessarily calling for impeachment. However, the formation of a committee is a moderate step, and one we think is appropriate and necessary. Rowland has committed wrongdoing, and there’s no excuse for not at least investigating it further.

It’s also important that we, as students, pay attention. Regardless of where we’re registered to vote, Connecticut is our current place of residence, and Rowland’s actions reflect on the actions of politicians everywhere. Whatever the committee decides about the severity of Rowland’s offenses, it’s not even so much his actions as the fact that the governor lied about them that rankles us. Apologizing shouldn’t make Rowland — or any politician — immune from the consequences of his actions, and state problems that demand legitimate attention shouldn’t excuse government corruption. If we can’t trust our politicians, no amount of budget balancing will save the state.

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