COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Bob Taft (search), a lame duck leader and now a convicted criminal for state ethics violations, said there is still important work for him to do and he will not resign.
Taft said he can remain an effective governor despite his plea of no contest Thursday to charges that he failed to report numerous golf outings (search) since taking office in 1999. He's barred by law from seeking a third term next year.
The great-grandson of President William Howard Taft is the first Ohio governor charged with or convicted of a crime.
"I will work just as hard as I know how to improve this state and to advance this great state of Ohio," Taft said Thursday. "I hope that the people of Ohio will understand that this mistake, although serious, was unintentional."
Taft said he chose not to plead guilty but was taking responsibility, through the no-contest plea, for failing to report 52 gifts worth about $5,800, including 47 golf outings.
Franklin County Municipal Judge Mark Froehlich found him guilty and fined him the maximum $1,000 for each of four misdemeanor counts. As expected, no jail time was ordered; he could have faced up to six months per count.
In addition to the fine, the judge ordered Taft to send e-mails to Ohio newspapers and state employees apologizing for his behavior.
"I accept total responsibility for my mistake, and I'm sorry," the governor said in a statement issued shortly after his conviction.
The ethics violations (search) were another blow to the GOP in the Republican-controlled state that won President Bush re-election. Democrats have found hope for the 2006 midterm elections in the investment scandal and a surprisingly close congressional race this month for an open seat in a GOP stronghold.
The Bush administration reacted calmly to Taft's conviction.
"Governor Taft apologized today, he has paid the fine and said it was a serious mistake, and the president accepts that," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (search), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006, said the charges are part of a "culture of corruption" in Ohio.
The governor has forced out underlings for ethics offenses, but he said those cases were different. Taft said his golf outings were mostly weekend events with friends and he didn't know they needed to be reported. The Ohio Ethics Commission (search) found no evidence that he had given political access in exchange for the outings.
Taft, 63, entered the cramped city courtroom Thursday accompanied by his attorney, his wife and two state troopers. He stood respectfully as he apologized to Froehlich.
"As governor I have made it clear that I expect all state workers to comply and follow both the spirit and the letter of Ohio's ethics laws, and I have demanded no less of myself," Taft said.
But at a news conference minutes later, Taft said repeatedly he would not resign, saying he had too much to do in his remaining 16 months as governor.
Now, Taft must persuade voters to pass a $2 billion public works bond issue in November that contains a high-tech proposal closely associated with the governor. Voters two years ago rejected his Third Frontier plan to borrow $500 million to recruit and retain cutting-edge jobs.