House Majority Leader Kevin Garn announced Saturday he was resigning from the Utah Legislature, two days after revelations of a nude hot-tubbing incident with a minor 25 years ago and a payment to keep it quiet.
"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," Garn said in his letter of resignation, submitted to House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, Saturday morning.
Cheryl Maher, who was the teen in the hot tub with Garn in 1985, said she has felt "a lot of peace" since coming forward with her story.
"I hope Kevin knows I never meant to hurt anyone, but the truth had to come out," she said Saturday morning in a phone interview from her New Hampshire home. By working with women in crisis or the mentally ill "he can turn this thing around to something positive. ... He could really help a lot of people," she said.
House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said he knew Garn's resignation was imminent, but is still saddened by the events.
"While there is no condoning of the events that took place, we certainly want to express our appreciation for the service Representative Garn demonstrated and our hearts and prayers are with his family," Clark said in an interview.
Garn, 55, follows in the path of his Senate colleague, former Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, who resigned his Senate seat in January after a drunk driving arrest.
The incident leading to Garn's downfall came to light in the last days of the 2010 legislative session in which he acknowledged inappropriate behavior with Maher, who was 15 at the time and worked for Garn, who was 30.
Garn, of Layton, admitted the two had sat nude in a Salt Lake City hot tub. He insisted there was no sexual contact, but admitted that it was wrong. Maher insists there was touching and physical contact, but declined to elaborate.
In 2002, when Garn, a Republican, was running for Congress, she began contacting reporters and Garn arranged to pay her $150,000, provided she sign an agreement not to go public with the incident. She signed a nondisclosure agreement and Garn paid her the money in 2003, well after he had lost the Republican congressional primary.
But a week ago, Maher began sending e-mails to state legislators and reporters laying out her allegations. In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune , a shaken Garn admitted her story was essentially true. With the news about to break, Garn made an emotional statement from the House floor Thursday night, with his wife by his side, apologizing to his colleagues and constituents.
"I expect to suffer public humiliation and embarrassment, but I also want you to know that I cannot allow one foolish mistake to continue to shadow my life," he said. "At this point, I would rather be open and honest about this than continue to live in fear. Some lessons are hard to learn. This is something I should have done back in 2002. But I was scared. I did not want to be publicly judged by one of my life's worst decisions."
His statement drew a standing ovation from his House colleagues, many of whom lined up to console Garn and his wife.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Garn's resignation should not overshadow the good work accomplished by the Legislature.
"The situation is unfortunate, and the governor wishes the best for Representative Garn and his family during what is undoubtedly a difficult time," said Angie Welling, Herbert's spokeswoman.
Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen said he got a call this morning informing him that Garn was quitting.
"It's very said that these things happen," he said. "It's a tragedy, not only for him, but for the girl and for the political system. ... I think he made the right decision after weighing it and looking at what he had to go through in resigning and resigning quickly."
Garn is a self-made businessman with a wide array of holdings, including a hotel, bank, video distribution company and considerable commercial real estate.
When he ran for Congress in 2002, his federal financial disclosure -- which reflects only a broad range for the value of assets -- reported a net worth of at least $20 million and possibly as much as $93 million.
He was elected to the Utah House in 1990 and rose through the ranks of Republican leadership to the position of majority leader. In June 2002, he resigned to focus his attention on his bid for the GOP nomination in Utah's 1st Congressional District. The next day, Garn and his wife Tanya frantically tried to reach Maher in regard to her contact with reporters, according to copies of e-mails provided by Maher.
He returned to the Utah House in 2007 and was again selected by his Republican colleagues as majority leader for the 2009 session.
Friday is the filing deadline for candidates interested in filling Garn's seat. Republican delegates in Garn's Davis County district will meet to choose a replacement until the November election. Clark said the House Republican Caucus is scheduled to meet in May and could choose a new majority leader at that time.