HARTFORD, Conn. – Gov. John G. Rowland (search) is drawing on the charm that once made him the wunderkind of Connecticut politics as he tries to fend off impeachment and survive a federal investigation that could destroy his once-shining career.
Rowland is inviting everyone from veteran legislators to local town committee chairmen for heartfelt apologies and private talks as he fights to stay in office. On Wednesday, he delivered a statewide televised address in which he declared: "I lied and there are no excuses."
"I think what he's trying to do is look everybody in the eye. He's not only had good relationships with those people, he's worked with these people," said Dean Pagani, Rowland's chief of staff. "He's not asking them to defend him. He's just asking them to have patience."
Republicans in the state House of Representatives on Friday proposed that a bipartisan select committee investigate the corruption scandal surrounding Rowland. Minority Leader Bob Ward presented the committee as an alternative to calls for the impeachment.
State Senate Democrats as a group called on the governor to resign and said they would support an impeachment investigation if Rowland did not step down.
The three-term Republican has been under fire since last month, when he admitted he lied about free renovations done on his lakeside cottage by friends and contractors. Some of the work was done by a contractor being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe of Rowland's administration.
Rowland has not been charged. But sources told The Associated Press this week that the governor's status in the investigation has changed from "witness" to "subject."
Over the past few weeks, Rowland has come under mounting pressure from the public, fellow politicians and the media to resign. A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found 56 percent of Connecticut voters believe he should step down, up from 44 percent in mid-December, shortly after the governor first admitted he lied in insisting he paid for the renovations.
The governor is pleading for patience. In particular, Rowland, 46, wants lawmakers to wait for the investigation to be completed before deciding whether to pursue any action.
"I want you all to know that I have never — not once — provided any favors or taken any actions in exchange for the gifts that I have received," Rowland said.
Rowland has said that he believes impeachment or investigative hearings will prevent any work from getting done. Lawmakers returning to work Feb. 4 face major budget problems, among other issues.
But House Speaker Moira Lyons (search), a Democrat who has the final decision on whether to begin impeachment proceedings, said the sentiment is clearly against waiting.
"From what I've heard tonight, we must take action," Lyons said Thursday night after a six-hour, closed-door Democratic caucus. "The eyes of Connecticut and our people are upon us."
House Democrats have agreed they must either form an investigative committee with subpoena powers or start the impeachment process. A decision is not likely until next week.
While Democrats have the simple majority in the House to vote articles of impeachment, they do not have the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to obtain a conviction.
At least five Republican state senators have said they think Rowland should resign.
"I felt it was very important for me to meet with Gov. Rowland, man-to-man, face-to-face and eye-to-eye to tell him that I believe he should step down now for the good of the people of the state of Connecticut," said six-term Republican John A. Kissel.
If Rowland were to step down, GOP Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell (search) would become governor.
Earlier this week, federal authorities ordered Rowland to produce all documents and information regarding the renovations. They also demanded his tax returns, and records of all gifts received from state employees or anyone doing business with the state or seeking to do business with the state.
Seven daily newspapers in the state have called for Rowland's resignation, and others have urged him to step aside while the probe is going on.
"Impeachment would absorb energy that legislators need to devote this year on other issues, including the state budget," The Advocate of Stamford said in an editorial Friday. "It can't be all about Mr. Rowland anymore, much as he might like it. His continued service would handicap Connecticut. Resign, governor."
Rowland is turning to what he knows — politics — and employing some of the same tactics that helped him rise through the political ranks so fast.
He was first elected to the state House in 1980 at age 23. At 27, he was elected to Congress, and a decade later he become governor — the youngest in the nation at the time.
"He's a door-to-door campaigner," said University of Connecticut Poll Director Ken Dautrich. "It's not surprising he'd go back to what worked in the past."
Dautrich added: "A good politician, when he or she gets in trouble, doesn't go away and hide. They try to shore up their support."