SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's House majority leader resigned from the Legislature Saturday, two days after acknowledging he paid a woman $150,000 to keep quiet about a nude hot-tubbing incident that took place a quarter century ago when she was a teenager.
Republican Rep. Kevin Garn's Thursday night confession came in a speech before House colleagues. Garn initially indicated he would like to keep his seat in House leadership, but Saturday he said it would be best if he quit.
He apologized in an e-mail to House Speaker David Clark for becoming a distraction.
"After discussing this matter with my family, I have decided that it is in the best interests of them, my colleagues and the people of Utah," he wrote. (Read the entire e-mail here).
"I sincerely apologize for becoming a distraction to the conclusion of an otherwise remarkable legislative session." Kevin Garn
Garn, 55, acknowledged the indiscretion with the legal minor immediately after the Legislature adjourned for the session.
Garn told colleagues he paid the woman, Cheryl Maher, after she began contacting reporters about the incident during his unsuccessful bid for a congressional seat in 2002. Despite a confidentiality agreement, the now 40-year-old Maher began contacting local news media last week to retell her story about being naked with Garn when she was 15, he said Thursday.
House speaker accepts Garn's resignation, explains applause
House Speaker David Clark accepted Garn's resignation Saturday afternoon and offered an explanation about why the House applauded Garn's confession Thursday night.
"I hope the people of Utah understand that our support of Rep. Garn and his family does not in any way signal support for illegal, unethical or ill-advised action by any member of the House," Clark wrote in a statement e-mailed to KSL.
"There are no handbooks on how to handle these difficult situations, and we were dealing with this matter on the busiest legislative day of the 2010 session. In hindsight, an alternative forum for the announcement may have been more appropriate. I sincerely appreciate those who evaluate this situation with a sense of justice and compassion for everyone involved."
You can read Clark's statement here.
Through blogs, e-mails and the KSL.com comment boards, many people expressed displeasure at the standing ovation Garn received after revealing his hot tubbing experience.
Maher now lives in Derry, N.H. She said by telephone Saturday that she and Garn were in a hot tub together twice -- once in late 1984 after she had just turned 15 and again a few months later in 1985. She declined to say if the pair were nude both times or to provide any other specifics of the hot tubbing episodes.
A message left for Garn on his cell phone by the Associated Press Saturday wasn't immediately returned.
"I'm sure the resignation was really difficult for him, but it needed to happen," Maher said. "This is a secret that devastated my life and my family's life."
She said she thinks Garn still has a bright future out of politics.
"My intention was not to harm or hurt anyone, it's just to speak the truth," she said. "It's freedom for me to get it out in the open and I think somewhere down the line he will think it's freedom for him, too."
Many not surprised by resignation
Saturday, both Republican and Democratic leaders for Utah called Garn's departure inevitable.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland said, "It was surprising to me, shocking, that he was indicating in any way that he was going to continue to try to serve and be reelected this fall."
Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen said, "I thought it was going to come to this. And I'm glad it's coming sooner rather than later, to be honest."
"Now that Rep. Garn has made the decision that he's going to resign, respect that decision," Hansen said. "Personally, I think it was the right decision for him to make and hopefully everyone can move on from there."
An interim replacement will have to be appointed to serve the rest of Garn's term, which ends in January 2011.
Brigham Young University political scientist Quin Monson said Garn had little choice but to resign.
"People can overcome and get on with their lives," Monson said. "But it doesn't necessarily mean we need to have them in a position of power and public trust."
Kirk Jowers of the Hinckley Institute of Politics says the story might linger in spite of Garn's resignation.
"This has all the elements of a story that sticks, questions that remain to be answered," he said.