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OP-ED | Republicans Should Beware Of Rowland’s Stench

by Terry D. Cowgill | Apr 18, 2014 4:30am
(2) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Campaign Finance, Election 2014, Opinion

Could this be the end of the road for former Gov. John G. Rowland? If once again convicted of political and financial malfeasance, will he ever be taken seriously when he’s released from prison a second time? And moreover, will his legal troubles drag down Republican candidates, especially the six running for the privilege of unseating Gov. Dannel P. Malloy?

In the eyes of the state’s political observers, Rowland has remained a fascinating figure ever since he burst on to the scene in 1984 by riding President Ronald Reagan’s coattails and unseating Democratic incumbent William Ratchford for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District seat. A gifted politician, Rowland went on to win the governorship in 1994 and won re-election twice before resigning in disgrace after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar early in his third term.

After emerging from 10 months in the poky, Rowland professed himself a changed man and got a job as economic development coordinator in his hometown of Waterbury. So far, so good.

Eventually, however, the still-ambitious Rowland felt the need for more exposure and more money, so he landed a job as afternoon drive-time host at WTIC 1080 AM. In a line-up that included the ornery libertarian Jim Vicevich and right-wing blowhard Rush Limbaugh, the moderate Rowland quickly emerged as the ideological grown-up during afternoon drive.

But the move to radio also proved to be Rowland’s undoing. Greater exposure also led to more temptation and infinitely more opportunities for chicanery. Having a 50,000-watt megaphone gave Rowland the ability to peddle what remained of his influence.

Enter Lisa Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian Foley, both of whom recently pleaded guilty to constructing a harebrained scheme to pay Rowland for working on Wilson-Foley’s campaign for Rowland’s old congressional seat by cutting checks to him as a healthcare consultant to Foley’s nursing home company, thereby concealing campaign expenses.

Douglas Healey / CTNewsJunkie The federal government really frowns on this, which is why Rowland was indicted last week on seven counts of scheming to hide his involvement in congressional campaigns. Last time around — even amid evidence that the scope of his corruption was far greater—Rowland pleaded guilty to a single corruption count in exchange for a light sentence.

This time around, Rowland, a former captain of the wrestling team at Holy Cross High School, reportedly rejected a plea and vowed to go mano-a-mano with the federal prosecutor. Indeed, he and his high-priced Washington criminal defense attorney, Reid Weingarten, have said they are “eager to go to trial.”

This whole sordid affair is a mess on multiple levels. If Weingarten is wrong and a jury finds that Rowland did conspire to break the law, his client will be finished with no chance of revival. Even his knuckleheaded pastor, former co-host and now replacement, the Rev. Will Marotti, won’t be able to work his redemptive magic on Rowland. All this for a mere $35,000 phony consulting fee? Makes no sense.

In standing by Rowland for so long — even as evidence mounted that he used his radio show to benefit Wilson-Foley without disclosing to his listeners or telling his bosses — WTIC’s own standing is in tatters. Why would an erstwhile respectable radio station risk its own reputation just to keep a felonious ex-governor on the air for a few years of decent ratings? Again, makes no sense.

And the specter of Rowland could loom large over the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Imagine for a moment trying to run for the state’s highest office as a Republican and having to endure daily coverage of Rowland’s trial this fall. I can just hear state Democratic Chair Nancy DiNardo hammering away at Tom Foley or whoever the eventual nominee is, as she just did recently when potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush came to town. And mark my words: tart-tongued former Malloy henchman Roy Occhiogrosso will throw a few rockets as well.

But if state Republicans want to immunize themselves from Rowland’s stench, they’ll have to do a better job than they did at last Friday’s gubernatorial debate. Otherwise they could pay dearly for the sins of their political ancestor.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. He has been a guest on Rowland’s show several times. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(2) Comments

posted by: Stan Muzyk | April 18, 2014  9:15am

@Terry Cowgill:  It’s Good Friday.  It’s time to absolve Republicans for John Rowland’s political sins—even though the Democrats would like this subject to continue on.  Take the weekend off and have a Happy Easter Terry
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posted by: Kathy Lauretano | April 18, 2014  4:30pm

You are so correct, Terry.  There is no excuse for any Republican to equivocate about Rowland. The misdeeds he committed as Governor that sent him to prison in the first place were incredibly stupid, but he did his time and appeared to be on the right track with an interesting radio program.  Folks were understandably willing to let him have another chance at a life.  That he got himself embroiled in anything that so much as appeared to be suspicious, much less the can of convoluted, surreptitious worms this Wilson-Foley mess has turned out to be was idiocy at best.  In all probability he will be headed back to prison, and deserves to be.  If and when he gets out he needs to go home, stay home, maybe only come outside to garden occasionally, never to be seen or heard from again on the political or public arena under any circumstances.  He is a dreadful embarrassment. Both the state GOP and the gubernatorial candidates should thoroughly wash their hands of him.