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Miss. Gov.’s Private Life in News

May 26, 1999

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Gov. Kirk Fordice is staying out of sight these days, which is a good thing for him: Reporters keep pestering him with questions, questions, questions about why he bought an elegant house in the suburbs and didn’t invite his wife of 44 years to live there.

The gossip mill is running full steam in country barbershops and on newspaper editorial pages. Fordice’s aides haven’t been this uptight since 1996 _ when the governor crashed a state-owned car after having lunch and holding hands with a woman while Mississippi’s first lady was in France.

``I’ve spent 52 years covering the state,″ said journalist Bill Minor. ``This has been the oddest thing I’ve ever seen.″

Fordice, a two-term Republican who has criticized President Clinton’s marital infidelity and courted the religious right, has said his private life is just that. He has refused to talk about the crash or this latest embarrassment, which came to light in TV reports late last month.

He canceled public appearances in the state and was noticeably quiet during this month’s special session of the Mississippi Senate. He hasn’t had a news conference in the past month. This week, he’s in Europe on a trade mission.

His press secretary, Robbie Wilbur, denied Wednesday that the governor has altered his schedule to avoid questions about the house.

As for first lady Pat Fordice, she has said little other than that she has never been to the governor’s brick house with big columns on Golden Pond. The $230,000 house has lace curtains and a pair of rocking chairs on the porch.

Neighbors say Fordice spends his weekends there, but they refuse to talk about other occupants.

In 1993, Fordice announced that he and his wife were having marital troubles and hinted at a pending divorce. A day later, Mrs. Fordice issued a statement saying she would have to be forced out of the marriage.

Last month, Mrs. Fordice again said she did not want a divorce, even though she knew her husband’s new home ``wasn’t for me.″

Fordice, 65, leaves office in about six months because of term limits and has said he has no further political plans.

He got used to ducking controversy in 1996, when he got into a car accident after being seen having lunch with a woman near Memphis. A waiter recalled serving wine to the governor and his female companion.

Passers-by pulled Fordice from his car after it careened off Interstate 55, tumbled down a ravine and caught fire. Fordice was hospitalized for three weeks with a bruised heart and lung, fractured vertebrae, several broken ribs and a broken collarbone.

Fordice has said he does not remember why he was in Memphis that day.

His defenders draw a distinction between the governor and the president.

Fordice ``doesn’t lie about it. He just doesn’t talk about it. There’s a big difference,″ said Bill Canon, a Republican state senator.

Marty Wiseman, a political science professor at Mississippi State University, said Fordice’s supporters don’t want to know the whole story.

``He still has a tremendous amount of support out there. That kind of support, whether it’s about Gov. Fordice or a favorite football coach, resents any further prying,″ Wiseman said.

Several newspaper editorials have said the governor’s private life should be kept out of the media. Even so, it’s been the subject of letters like the one Mary Pearson wrote to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.

``He does not deserve a class lady like Pat Fordice,″ she wrote. ``He struts around like a rooster with a handful of Viagra. He does not realize that the day you are elected to public office, your private life ends.″

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