Gov. John G. Rowland announced his resignation Monday night, bringing an end to almost ten years as the chief executive of Connecticut and six months during which allegations of unethical conduct left him on the brink of impeachment.
Standing next to his wife Patty on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion, Rowland said it was “time to take a new path,” announcing that he would leave office at noon on July 1. Rowland–who is facing investigations by both the General Assembly and the federal government into gifts he received–will be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell.
“The months leading to this decision have been difficult for all of us,” Rowland, said in a televised address. “I acknowledge that my poor judgment has brought us here.”
That statement was one of the few signs of contrition in Rowland’s speech, in which the governor expressed pride in his accomplishments and thanked his family, friends and colleagues.
“Throughout these years, I have never forgotten what the people of Connecticut have given me,” Rowland said. “I can only hope that when all is said and done, when the dust settles and time casts light back on our time in office, that the people will see that we tried to give something back as well.”
In a statement issued several hours before Rowland’s speech, Rell, a Republican from Brookfield, said she would focus her efforts on restoring confidence in state government.
“Frankly, it’s a sad and historic day. The people of Connecticut have been through much during the past several months,” said Rell, 58, who has served as lieutenant governor since Rowland took office in 1995. “We now have the opportunity to begin anew and allow Connecticut to shine again.”
The governor’s resignation came as a surprise to some in Hartford. He reached his decision Saturday, a day after the State Supreme Court ruled that he was required to appear before a legislative panel exploring his impeachment, the Hartford Courant reported. With his future as governor growing increasingly dim, Rowland chose to effectively end a political career that had once looked tremendously promising.
Rowland, 47, was once considered a rising star in the national Republican Party. Elected to the State House at the age of 23, he later became the youngest congressman in Connecticut’s 216-year-history and was the youngest governor in the country when he took office in 1995. Less than two years ago, Rowland resoundingly won a third term as governor, and as a personal friend of the Bush family, he even earned mention as a possible cabinet pick.
Rowland had been dogged by claims of misconduct prior to last year, and his political opponents had accused him of unethical dealings in his 2002 campaign. But until revelations in December 2003 about renovations on his Litchfield summer cottage paid for by state employees and contractors, Rowland had escaped the accusations relatively unscathed.
After initially lying about the renovations–which came to light as part of an emerging federal investigation into misconduct in the administration — acknowledged accepting the gifts and issued a solemn apology on statewide television Jan. 7. But even as further accusations emerged, including some surrounding gifts and inflated rent payments by New Haven businessman Robert Matthews, Rowland denied that he had ever provided political favors in return for gifts.
By late January, however, many of Rowland’s former allies–including several prominent Connecticut Republicans–were calling for his resignation. The State House of Representatives unanimously created a bipartisan, 10-member Select Committee of Inquiry to investigate Rowland’s conduct and make a recommendation concerning whether he should be impeached.
But as Rowland’s political base crumbled and the Select Committee of Inquiry continued its investigation, Rowland staunchly defended himself and repeatedly said he would not end his term early. State Rep. Claudia Powers, a Republican from Greenwich who serves on the Committee, said she did not expect Rowland to resign as late as this morning. The only indication that he would resign, Powers said, were news reports and a one-line e-mail informing committee members that the governor’s lawyers would not be appearing for a hearing Monday.
“When I drove in this morning, I did not expect him to resign,” Powers said from the Capitol Monday afternoon. “For six months or even longer, he’s been very, very consistent to say that no, he would not resign.”
With the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, Rowland’s options were limited. If Rowland chose to testify, his statements might prove damaging in the federal corruption investigation. But if Rowland chose not to speak before the committee, he would further isolate himself politically and virtually guarantee impeachment.
“It seems like the governor had no options left,” said State Rep. Mike Lawlor, a Democrat from East Haven on the Select Committee of Inquiry. “If he didn’t resign, he was going to be impeached.”
Lawlor said lawmakers in Hartford were relieved to see Rell take office.
“She’s definitely a breath of fresh air, and everyone’s just happy,” said Lawlor, who taught at the Yale Law School last semester. Comparing Rell to former President Gerald Ford, Lawlor said the lieutenant governor–like Ford in the wake of Richard Nixon’s presidential resignation–is well-placed to restore trust in the Governor’s office.
Members of the Select Committee of Inquiry said they were not yet sure how they would proceed following Rowland’s resignation, although Lawlor said the panel might complete its work by issuing a final report. The federal investigation, which has increasingly focused on Rowland as a “subject,” is expected to continue for several more months.
With Rell’s accession to the Governor’s Mansion, State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin Sullivan, a Democrat, is slated to become lieutenant governor under the state constitution, a move that would bring uncharacteristic bipartisanship to the executive branch.
“There will be a significant changing of the guard,” said State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven.
Looney said both houses of the General Assembly will also choose new leaders for next year’s session.
Despite the shakeup in Hartford, city and state leaders said they were confident that Rowland’s resignation would not damage the credibility of state government or prevent the state from moving forward on a wide range of political issues.
“The real challenge now is to get the state moving again, creating jobs and supporting families,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said. “I look forward, on New Haven’s part, to working with Lieutenant Governor Rell.”
DeStefano said that while Rell would likely be a more formidable Republican candidate in 2006 as a sitting governor, Rowland’s resignation did not change the six-term New Haven mayor’s plans to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006.
Rowland is the first governor in Connecticut history to resign under accusations of misconduct, and the first governor nationally to step down under pressure since Arizona Gov. Fife Symington did so in 1997.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.