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Taking a Political Tumble

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT — Gov. John G. Rowland (R), who has been a persistent foe of AFSCME and all unionized workers, is caught in an ethics scandal that has stirred serious talk of impeachment. He has admitted accepting gifts — from state contractors and others — to help renovate a vacation home, and federal investigators are looking into allegations that he has influenced the awarding of state contracts.

During his first two terms, Rowland went on a privatizing spree. First, he turned over the Department of Labor's computer system to IBM. Then he hired Maximus Inc. to oversee and pay child care costs for women trying to move from welfare to jobs. Result: Many lost their jobs and went back on welfare. Both outsourcing schemes failed.

Two years ago, the governor tried to ease the state's budget deficit by mounting an assault on workers. Resorting to heavy-handed tactics, he threatened to lay off 3,000 state employees unless the unions made concessions. "We offered every penny the governor asked for," says Council 4 Exec. Dir. Sal Luciano, who is also an International vice president. "That's about $2,500 in lost wages for each public service worker — 10 times more than the total state taxes paid by Connecticut's largest corporations." Rowland fired all 3,000 anyway. Workers described the massive layoff, in December 2002, as the "Nightmare Before Christmas."

Shortly after the terminations, Council 4 joined 12 other unions in suing Rowland for violating the U.S. Constitution by laying off unionized employees while sparing their non-union counterparts. The suit, which is still pending in the courts, also accuses of him of laying off union members who backed his Democratic opponent in 2002 while exempting state troopers — who belonged to the only union that supported his election.

Now it looks as though the governor himself has created, as he puts it, "my own personal nightmare." After initially lying about who funded work on his summer house, he later admitted that employees and a contractor who does business with the state paid for some of the work.

The U.S. attorney's office and the state attorney general are investigating the governor's actions. Meanwhile, a bipartisan panel of the state Legislature is considering whether to impeach Rowland for admittedly accepting gifts from state contractors and political appointees, then lying about it. He would be removed from office if impeached and convicted. Over the past several years, Rowland has paid about $15,000 in fines for various state ethics violations. 

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