Monday, November 08, 2004

The Impeachment And Resignation Of Governor John Rowland

Governor John Rowland two days ago threw himself on the mercy of the media.

In a written statement, Rowland admitted he had mislead the state's Capitol Press Corp and abjectly apologized. And what was the result?

It was predictable, after his stunning confession, that he would be publicly mutilated. Nothing so arouses the media as public confessions of deceit.

Two newspapers called for his resignation, firebrand liberals demanded the governor be impeached, and other leading Democrats asked that Rowland step down until federal authorities have completed their investigations.

Much of the heavy fire came on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2003.

The Hartford Courant ran two stories on page one under the headline "Tomasso Oversaw Cottage Work." One sub-headline read "Contractors: He Hired Them While His Company Sought State Job," and the other read "Rowland: Democratic Leaders Say Governor is 'Looking Into That Opened Pit."

According to the story, William Tomasso "personally was overseeing improvements to Governor John A. Rowland's lake front cottage."

For prosecution purposes, it is essential to establish a material connection between a receipt of bribes on Rowland's part and a benefit received by the Tomasso companies.

Is there one?

The connection usually lie in the eye of the beholder. The improvements were overseen by William Tomasso at a time when the Rowland administration was awarding some no-bid contracts to the Tomasso companies.

Ambitious and sharp-eyed Federal prosecutors employing RICO legislation need only show that a "criminal enterprise" existed and that Rowland was part of it. If they can convince a jury that the home improvements were kickbacks for contracts awarded, they would be able to make a case against Rowland that might convince a jury.

But will they?

There are legions of Democrats and disappointed supporters of William Curry in Connecticut's media that would welcome a prosecution, provided the tenacles of prosecutors do not reach into Democratic closets.

Some liberal Democrats -- four House members and Sen. Edith Prague -- have openly called for impeachment. Others -- State Treasurer Denise Nappier, Comptroller Nancy Wyman and Democratic Party Chairman George Jepsen -- more cautiously called upon the governor to "step aside" for the duration of the federal investigation. Since there is no declared end-point to the investigation, their demand, practically speaking, is an invitation to the governor to resign office.

The likelihood of impeachment is, strickly speaking, a political question. If an impeachment would not expose Democrats to public scrutiny -- and/or prosecution -- we might see one.

Impeachment would begin in the House of Representatives and conclude with a trial in the Senate.

While it is true that the state legislature is dominated by Democrats, Republicans, seeking to establish a prosecutorial and ethical baseline, concevably could call past governors to testify concerning relationships they may have had with the Tomasso companies.

Worse, Democrat stalwarts such as former party chairman John Droney and former state Senator William DiBella might be summoned to testify. Such testimony could become uncomfortable both for a number of Democrat Party hacks who have benefited from finders fees and some Democratic leaders in the legislature comtemplating inpeachment.

The same may happen during a Rowland trial. Political corruption that hinges on the receipt of bribes is a tricky business, a rake in the grass. One must trod very carefully, with an eye to political consequences.

This is virgin territory. When editorialists decry the Rowland administration as "the most corrupt" in living memory, they do not often mention that it is also the most investigated administration in living memory. Tomasso company connections with state administrations overleap party lines, and are deeply rooted in pre-Rowland administrations.

As is usual in these cases, older heads are cooler heads. While Chris Dodd, whose father was impeached, tells us that he is "sick and tired of picking up the paper every day and reading about corruption in the state (He ain't seen nothing yet), Connecticut's senior senator advises that the process in place should be "permitted to take its course."

That course -- involving grand jury investigations, continual pressure and criticism from a media that thinks lying to reporters ought to be a capital offense, possible impeachment proceedings, or perhaps a quiet uneventful resignation on the part of the governor -- is a winding river that, uncontained, may overleap its banks and pull in its undertow Democrats more clever than Rowland who have managed to escape the notice of investigative grand juries.

In the smoke filled rooms of the Democratic and Republican parties, "containment" may be a word heard more often than "impeachment" or "conviction."


This Sunday, The Hartford Courant editorial board called for the resignation of Governor John Rowland.

What a surprise!

And Rowland's gubernatorial challenger, Bill Curry, resurfaced in an interview in "Northeast Magazine," also published by the Courant.

What a shocker!

In retrospect, Curry looks good; a prophet unheeded in his own state, or so it would appear. Curry has been been dubbed by the Advocate chain of newspapers "Connecticut's Cassandra."

It is worthwhile remembering the Courant blessed Rowland, not Curry, with its gubernatorial endorsment. Such endorsements don't mean much in the grand scheme of things; few people pay attention to media endorsements, a certain sigh of a loss of potency, but the stab in the back no doubt made it less possible for Curry to move with agility.

To give credit where credit is due, Curry, during his campaign, did mention corruption in connection with the peculation of Rowland's associates as well as the "D" word -- deficit, and no one at the time paid him much mind.

A Curry administration would not shrink the deficit. Bill Curry is a likeable fellow. He brings a high degree of civility with him to any political discussion. Intending to bestow a compliment, I referred to him once in one of my own unread and forgotten columns as "the Oscar Wilde of Connecticut politics." While his political prescriptions may be ruinous,the man himself is good to the bone.

The interview in "Northeast" was conducted by Dan Haar, the Courant's business editor, who danced rather gingerly around Curry's plan to relieve Connecticut taxpayers of burdensome property taxes by having state government assume a greater role in paying the cost of education. Under Curry's "property tax relief plan", onerous property taxes would be reduced and state government would assume a larger portion of educational costs.

Curry's plan was and will remain a shell game that may backfire politically-- unless he intends at some point, perhaps in some future gubernatorial run, to propose genuine cuts in educational costs.

If costs remain the same, the tax load on citizens of the state will remain fixed; ultimately, there will be no relief because net costs will not be reduced. Under the Curry plan, municipal governments, which have had some success in cutting budgets, would lose control of educational costs.

Curry, in other words, had proposed a power shift -- not a cost saving measure. It was this transparent shell game that put him at odds with many voters, who listened to him, saw the dollar signs in his eyes, and voted for Rowland. There is little chance that Curry will give up promoting "property tax relief" and settle on a plan that would, in fact, reform property tax collection and provide real relief.

Any reform of the property tax must begin with a frank acknowledgement of its virtues. Good government does not throw the baby out with the wash. These are the virtues of the property tax: It provides a steady stream of revenue easily collected by municipalities; it reduces compliance and administrative costs because it provides no opportunity for tax avoidance; and it is transparent, since the taxpayer knows exactly what he is paying for and what he receives in return.

Reliance on state funding of education, as we have learned from the recession that now shows signs of ending, creates fiscal uncertainties for municipalities: Surpluses increase the pressure to cut taxes, and deficits induce legislators to cut costs and shift the burden of payments to municipalities.

Now, it has been sufficiently advertised that liberals in Connecticut intend to shift the burden of increasing educational costs to the state's millionaires. But the state's millionaires are not without resources: They can vote against such taxes with their feet, and they may also employ the services of tax attorneys who will advise them in the gentle art of tax avoidance.

The real hidden danger in having costs paid by the millionaires is that in doing so any inducement to keep spending within tolerable limits disappears. Also, good government should be broad based on both the suppy and comsumption side. Those who pay the bills are more likely to be concerned with costs. The danger in having the millioaires pay the brunt of the costs for education is that no one but millionaires, a slim minority in the state, are likely to be concerned with the spending side of the budget.

Within the space of two governors -- Lowell Weicker, who instituted the income tax, and Rowland, who spent all the money generated by that tax and then some -- the state budget has doubled. No matter, liberals have assure us, "The state has no spending problem. It has a revenue problem." The words are those of Courant political writer Michele Jackin, the Madam Defarge of Curryites.

There is no check on spending in the tax reform plan favored by the Curryites -- none. When asked how he would discharge the defict, Curry responded with a plan that would have reduced the defict by about a third. The editor of the Journal Inquirer, Chris Powell, several months ago wrote a bristling column on all this.

Connecticut should be exploring ways to reform the property tax. Split-rate taxation -- taxing improvements at a lower rate than land -- would have a beneficial impact on economic growth by creating an inducement to develop underutilized space. As a direct consequence, home owners would realize a decrease in their property tax burden.

But Republicans, overcome by the controversy crippling Rowland, are not likely to offer effective resistance to budget busters who will ascend to power as the governor's influence diminishes, and it is this happy thought, much more than fantasies of vindication, that has revitalized liberal Democrats.

Will Rowland resign?

Possibly. How could the governor bear to disappoint so many of his former media friends, not to mention his moderate cohorts, Democrat and Republican, in the legislature? The hallmark of the Rowland administration, ever since he abandoned a principled conservativism, has been consanguinity and agreeableness. At some point along the line in his political career -- My guess is it was very early on -- Rowland decided that resistance wasn't worth the trouble; conservativism wasn't worth the trouble. He was elected to govern, and govern he would.

Teddy Roosevelt is the template for Republican politicians in the Northeast, and you can't ape Teddy Roosevelt convincingly without being energetically progressive, an affliction born ackwardly by the entire Republican U.S. Congressional contingent, moderates all. Once in office, the TR pretender is compelled by the logic of his assumed character to enhance his legacy, which can only be done by wildly spending wads of money.

In this regard, it is worth recalling H. L. Mencken eloquent tribute to a notable do-nothing president: He didn't bawl platitudes from the rooftops, Mencken said, and the Republic was at peace during his tenure.

One of the reasons Rowland must feel abandoned by other Republicans -- though the number of principled conservatives in the legislature can be counted on the fingers of one hand -- is that he is not their dog in the fight. The Carvillian spit and spunk is missing from the brawl. Moderates are not inclined to defend each other to the death, and conservatives are quite willing to let Rowland go down in disgrace. They may even be willing to let the Curryites take the helm -- feeling, as some do in their moments of despair, that the populace in a democracy always deserves its governors. So, the budget has doubled in the last decade, has it? Want to triple it? Vote Democratic. Just as bad laws, if enforced, will be repealed, so will bad governments be repelled -- in time.

Curry himself probably has more in common with conservatives than the moderates in his own party, whom he has accused of going along to get along.

Curry and a handful of conservative in Connecticutcertainly share something in common: Neither is satisfied with the present regime. Curry would make a liberal state more liberal; conservatives would have it more conservative. But the obstacle to progress that stands in the path of both liberals and conservatives is -- the moderates, the quislings, the principle trimmers, the custodians of the status quo. And Curry is very hot after them in The Northeast interview. "What is this about?" he asks. "What is the question for the people here? How did this entire state become this man's (Rowland's) enablers? Where were the editorial boards? Where was the state's attorney? Where was the Ethics Commission? How could the General Assembly's leadership refuse to take sworn testimony on any of these scandals for nine years? How could the state make a collective decision not to enforce its own ethics laws? Why was this left to a handful of people in the U.S. attorney's office?"

Some of these questions may be answered. But, on the whole, the questions are well posed and have about them the bracing odor of fired grapeshot.


So, how did Rowland get into this pickle?

Rowland got divorced and married his High School sweet heart. In the land of fairy, both of them ought to have lived happily ever after. But there is little room for poetic fancy in politics, and unlike the multi-wived Lowell Weicker, Connecticut's King Henry VIII, Rowland couldn't afford the alimony payments.

The math was done by Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell in one of his columns. I'll use rounded numbers here. For the first several years of his administration, the governor was earning about $78,000 but was paying out $33,600 in alimony.Only last year was his salary raised to $150,000.

Feeling his pain, several of his friends -- among them Jo McKenzie, recently vilified for her solicitude in a testy column written by Courant writer Helen Ubinas -- decided to pitch in and defray some of his expenses.

Ubinas apparently was offended by one of McKenzie's kindnesses: When it became impossible for the Rowland's to participate in a home building project for poor people, Ms. McKenzie found other sponsors so the project could continue -- a small good, to be sure, but one that Ms. Ubinas seems determined not to leave unpunished.

It was left to Kevin Rennie, once a Republican state lawmaker and now a political writer for Northeast, a Courant publication, to drive home the stake.

"A defiant Jo McKenzie," Rennie wrote in his fly-on-the-wall column, "looking more than ever like the distaff half of the old ventriloquist act 'Waylan and Madam,' is thought to have already faced a federal grand jury."

Rowland's friends fixed up a cabin on a lake for him. What are friends for?

William Tomasso of the Tomasso Group, a company that through numerous governors has done business with the state, provided Rowland with various amenities. The trouble was that some of Rowlands friends were contractors, and their gifts -- if they were gifts -- were deemed inappropriate by a whole slew of people: such as Courant investigative reporter Jon Lender and Michele Jacklin, the paper's political columnist; Democrat labor leaders who had stubbed their toes on the governor's resolve not to turn over to them all the tax money he had collected during his tenure; moderate Democrat and Republican "legislative leaders"; radio talk-show gabmeister Colin McEnroe, Bill Curry's fast friend; Bill Curry, the liberal white knight in the whole affair; federal prosecutors from whose belts dangled the scalps of Joe Ganim, the ex-mayor of Bridgeport, Paul Silvester, the former State Treasurer, his crooked legal friend Robert Stack and Civil Rights leader Ben Andrews -- everybody, it seemed but Rowland's mother and second wife, who wrote a Christmas satire that sent most political writers in the state into an apoplectic rage.

The divorce -- These things can be expensive -- was partially responsible for Rowland's problems; that and a disposition to accept favors from underlings and sycophants.

Will the Rowland mess leech into the careers of other politicians?

Most likely not. Democrats are very agile at escaping the whip. In a recent Courant story, Lender, the object of Patty Rowland's ire in her Christmas poem satire, mentioned that Rowland was not the only governor to vet state contracts, a practice the governor gave up after the legislature boosted his pay. Lender quoted Louis Goldberg, a commissioner in both the Weicker and Rowland administrations, to the effect that former Governor Lowell Weicker continually had his thumb on the pulse of state contracts.

The gentle art of shaking down contractors to finance campaigns -- if that is what Rowland did -- almost certainly had been practiced, though with more panache, by other governors from whom grand jurors may never compel testimony. If the machinery for corruption was there prior to Rowland-- And it was, in spades-- what is the possibility that more saintly governors and their accomplices did not make use of it?

Will Rowland be indicted?

Everyone seems to think so. But at this point the prosecutorial matter seems to rest on doubtful propositions. It's true that Alibozek buried in his back yard a kickback in cash and gold coins, reputedly from the Tomasso's, certainly an amusing and alarming touch. But the Rowland mess falls far short of "Operation Plunder Dome" in Providence. Anyone who has read "The Prince of Providence," Mike Stanton's sometimes hilarious account of the Cianci regime, knows that Rowland just does not measure up.

Besides, there are legal questions that hang over the prosecution. One of them could be glimpsed by reading through the lines of a recent Courant story in which Connecticut's Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano decided that he would not interfere with the federal prosecution underway by instituting a prosecution of his own.

The Feds are not supposed to prosecute under RICO legislation when states can prosecute, and there is no question that Morano is capable of prosecuting Rowland, a small fly in the prosecutorial ointment that a lawyer familiar with the RICO statutes might exploit.

The federal grand jury sitting in Connecticut, seeming to follow the lead sugested in countless news stories and commentaries, recently subpoenaed records relating to gifts given to Governor John Rowland by friends, contractors and political associates.

Several newspapers have reported that Rowland's status has been upgraded from "witness" to "person of interest," though the governor still is not a "target" of the federal probe.

The question arises: With all this poking around by the media and the feds, who needs an additional probe by the legislature?

A serious answer to the question would draw important distinctions between various kinds of inquiries.

An impeachment probe will be different in kind from a probe that seeks to create legislation that would prevent future officeholders from wandering into the mare's nest that has ensnared Rowland .

A legislative probe is necessary for impeachment. If the legislature is serious about removing the governor from office, the only applicable penalty in impeachment proceedings, it may do so only after an impeachment in the House, followed by a trial in the Senate.

During impeachment, the House compiles a case against the governor and send the case to the Senate for trial. If the Senate convicts, the governor is removed from office.

Such inquiries can cause disabling problems should federal prosecutors return an indictment and wish to try the governor on criminal charges. It is not at all unusual for defense lawyers to successfully petition courts to exclude from a criminal trial evidence obtained during other authorized inquiries. That is why the federal prosecutors have been counseling against an investigation in the House and Senate that would duplicate their efforts.

Can an impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate be constructed so as to avoid these pitfalls?

No doubt it can. Impeachment is preeminently a political rather than a juridical act, although the process is juridical in form. The real danger in impeachment lies in the precedents it creates. There are no guidelines in Connecticut's Constitution that tell us when impeachment may be utilized. In the U.S. Constitution, office holders may be impeached at the will of the legislature for "high crimes and misdemeanors."

What constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor? Former President Gerald Ford gave the clearest and, many constitutional scholars thought, most accurate answer to this question when he said that a high crime and misdemeanor was whatever the impeaching authority said it was during the impeachment process.

In being asked to consider impeachment, Connecticut's legislature is doing two things: It is proposing to remove a governor and negate an election; at the same time, it is creating a precedent for future impeachments that may be applied to every officeholder in the state.

These are weighty matters.

Impeachment is a political decision that will affect, some suppose for the worse, all future elections and all future impeachments. During the impeachment of Rowland, legislators will be creating the standard against which the behavior of every office holder in Connecticut, appointed or elected, will be measured in the future to determine whether the official is fit to remain in office. In the case of elected officials, legislators will be creating the standard that may be used, rightly or wrongly, to effect what one might call electoral nullification.

Connecticut's constitution is nearly mute on the matter of impeachment. It casts a shadow, rather than a broad outline, which impeaching legislators will define through the act of impeachment itself.

What to make of the argument that Governor John Rowland ought to resign for the good of his party?

The short answer is: The parties have long ago been supplated by interest groups.

There was a point, at the beginning of January, when Rowland decided to hunker down and brave the gathering storm assailing him.

Tom Scott, best known for leading a march on the capitol after former Governor Lowell Weicker pressured the legislature to pass an income tax, made a brief appearance on the op-ed page of the Hartford Courant.

That in itself was bizarre: It was as if Arron Burr had shown up at the funeral of Alexander Hamilton to say a few kind words about the corpse. After his column appeared, Courant political columnist Michelle Jacklin, Scott's ideological opposite, referred approvingly to points Scott made, and Colin McEnroe, a liberal talk show host who also writes a column for the Courant, confessed,"I like Tom Scott."

Common interests make strange bedfellows. But Scott's analysis was sharp.

Scott located Rowland's Achilles heel in his lack of character and principle, as evidenced by his truly shameful and politically opportunistic reversal on the abortion issue.

"I saw what he did on abortion," Scott wrote. "After a career in the state legislature and in Congress as a pro-life Irish Catholic legislator - who said that it was murder to terminate a pregnancy - one morning just before his 1990 campaign for governor, Rowland abandoned the pro-life plank. His excuse? He couldn't get away with it running for statewide office. Whichever side you take on this issue, the shamelessness of his opportunism is breathtaking."

And then Scott pointed out the chief difference between moderates and partisans: "I pity a man who spends his life in the political arena without the pleasure of standing on principle. That someone so lacking in character, in core beliefs, could rise so far is an indictment of Connecticut's go-along, get-along government. John Rowland is the product of a system that rewards a lack of conviction. He has governed without commitment to party or ideology. That has been fine with the Democrats and the liberals; they have had one of their own in office without having to elect him. It has been fine with his Republican colleagues, too, because he has an R after his name. Such blind partisanship discredits the GOP of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and former Connecticut Gov. Tom Meskill."

He got it just about right.

Parties form around persons or a set of coherent ideas -- a political philosophy. But, Scott wrote, "Connecticut does not have ideologues to speak of, just the users and the used. Suddenly John Rowland is used up, and everyone can see what some of us saw all along: Devoid of conviction, he is an essentially dishonest man."

What to call the Republican ... uh, thing ... if it's not a party?

A political interest group, centered in the politician of the moment, whomever it happens to be. The Democrats are the same. Of course, at the extremities of the parties, we have people committment to ideas: There are conservatives and liberals in Connecticut who believe deeply in their principles. But increasingly, they are pushed aside by the unprincipled professional ruling class -- here in the Northeast, mostly moderates.

Political parties have been replaced by interest groups, and modern politics now is centered in personalities. On the edges of the political pond, people are still commitment to ideas: There are conservatives and liberals in Connecticut who believe deeply in their respective philosophies, but increasingly, they are pushed aside by an unprincipled permanent ruling class that attaches itself to various interest groups in order to maintain itself in power.

Political support has two dimensions: depth and breath. There was no depth to Rowland's support, because there was no depth to (italics) him (end italics). Choosing the broad middle way, Rowland very early in his career cast off his ideological ballast so as to make himself light as air, the better to be able to move briskly to the right or left on a whole host of issues.

The best politicians are like rivers: They can chose to be deep or broad -- but not both. Lincoln was a river so deep that, even today, the Republican Party he remade swims in its bed. The same may be said of Franklin Roosevelt.

Depth is a measure of principle and sacrifice. Sometime -- literally, in Lincoln's case -- the man must die so the principle may live and water the consciences of lesser men. May we always be watered by such hidden springs.

Because Rowland cast off the ballast of principles, his support was as shallow as his principles. Rowland's coattails were virtually nonexistent during his tenure. He carried no one into office with him. His agenda was cobbled together pragmatically from newspaper editorials and compromise measures designed to put his critics at ease.

Republicans will not likely suffer long term losses by the scandal that has enveloped their unprincipled governor.

The worse that can be said about Rowland is that he is a shallow man. Most moderates are.

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