Ct. Governor Assessed for Failures

When Gov. John G. Rowland (search) first rode into office, he promised to get rid of the state's three-year-old income tax. Now, that's among a string of promises Rowland won't be able to keep.

Within moments of news that Rowland had decided to resign amid a federal corruption investigation and a legislative impeachment inquiry, his decade in office already was being assessed for its accomplishments and failures.

His legacy will be most apparent in Connecticut's cities, where the three-term Republican tread on normally Democratic turf and pushed an inner-city agenda.

And, he taught the next generation of Republican politicians how to get along with the largely Democratic legislature and how to work by building partnerships when big problems had to be solved.

He was accessible to the public and a steady hand in a crisis, from the slayings of employees at state lottery headquarters in the 1990s to the Sept. 11, 2001, aftermath.

But his main contribution to history will be as the first governor to resign under pressure amid a gift-taking and bid-rigging scandal in his administration. The revelations piled over the months until he announced he would step down midway through his third term.

"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."

A University of Connecticut poll conducted after Monday's resignation speech showed 47 percent of Connecticut residents had positive opinion of Rowland's 9 1/2 years in office, while 51 percent had a negative view. Sixty-two percent said Rowland's legacy will be negative.

The telephone poll of 505 Connecticut residents has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"He will be remembered, unfortunately for the bad things, but more importantly, down the road, our cities will be thriving because of him," said Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who will succeed Rowland on July 1.

Rowland, 47, entered politics as a right-wing Republican at age 23, and went through Congress on the more conservative side of the party. When he became governor at age 37, he learned quickly that he had to moderate his views to get things done, said Quinnipiac University political scientist Scott McLean.

He pledged in the 1994 race to do away with the state's first income tax, enacted as the state battled a huge gap in a recession era. Despite repeated vows to eliminate the tax, his promise wasn't met.

Because he came from Waterbury, which had struggled following the collapse of the state's manufacturing industry, Rowland had firsthand knowledge of many issues in the Democrat-dominated cities, McLean said.

Rowland went against expectations by working with the legislature to increase school aid and other help for municipalities. But much of the extra funding came under court pressure, after the state's school funding system was found to be unconstitutional under the Sheff vs. O'Neill lawsuit.

All the spending, however, came at a price. The state has nearly $13 billion in tax-supported debt — almost $4,000 per person — and generations to come will have to pay for it.

Corporate leaders have praised Rowland for reducing business taxes, holding state budgets down during bad economic times and fighting proposals in the legislature that business leaders opposed.

He cut the gas tax instead of the income tax, which was a populist strategy, but the gas tax cut also left less money for badly needed highways, bridges and mass transit.

The legislative committee that spent two weeks hearing details of all the evidence of free gifts, trips and favors given to Rowland by friends, staffers and state contractors won't now consider his impeachment, but it still plans to issue a report.

Although there are no indications that Rowland's resignation was part of a deal with prosecutors, his departure could influence the corruption probe.

The U.S. Attorney's Manual requires prosecutors to consult with top levels of the Justice Department before indicting sitting public officials. As an average citizen, that level of scrutiny would be reduced.

On Tuesday, lawyers argued in a private session before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York about whether Rowland's former legal aide should be compelled to testify before a grand jury about any advice she provided to the governor's office. The court did not immediately issue a ruling.

If Anne George is ordered to testify, all of Rowland's former attorneys could be ordered before a grand jury.