CATEGORY: Governor

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Fordice announces intent to divorce first lady

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Kirk Fordice's attorney released a statement Thursday saying the governor plans to divorce first lady Pat Fordice and marry Ann Creson, his childhood sweetheart and the woman with whom he vacationed last week in France.

"The governor indicated that he and his wife had been estranged for a long period of time, and he was very hopeful that the matter could be resolved equitably and with dignity for both parties," the statement from Jackson attorney Jim Becker read. "The governor further indicated that he had developed a close relationship with a longtime friend, Ann G. Creson of Memphis, and that upon conclusion of divorce, he plans to marry her."

In the statement, Becker said Pat Fordice also has retained an attorney and the couple had been working for "some time" for "an appropriate property settlement agreement in connection with an irreconcilable differences divorce."

Meanwhile, gubernatorial spokesman Robbie Wilbur said Fordice had no intention of resigning, despite bipartisan suggestions that the governor do so.

First lady's attorney

But attorney L.C. James of Jackson, who is representing the first lady, said Pat Fordice has not decided what she intends to do.

"I think she is still considering her options," James said late Thursday. "He has made several available to her."

Earlier in the Fordice administration when the governor issued a statement saying the two had "irreconcilable differences," the first lady said she did not intend to leave the Governor's Mansion "unless forced" to do so.

Under state law, an irreconcilable differences divorce cannot be granted unless both sides agree. If both sides do not agree, then the party wanting the divorce must present reasons for the divorce.

Several sources reported that after Jackson TV station WLBT reported Tuesday on the governor's trip to France with Creson, the first lady moved out of the Governor's Mansion and returned to Vicksburg.

For most of their 43 years of marriage, the Fordices lived in Vicksburg, where they raised their four children and he operated a construction company before being elected governor in 1991.

Reaction

Of the possible divorce, state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo said, "Any time a family breaks up it is gut-wrenching. That is highlighted by the fact that it is the first family of Mississippi."

"All our hearts go out for Gov. Fordice, Mrs. Fordice, the children and the grandchildren," Nunnelee said. "But I think the business of government will go on, but it certainly is a personal tragedy for that family."

The Rev. Don Wildmon, president of the Tupelo-based American Family Association, said the governor should resign. Wildmon's association espouses many of the conservative, family value views that have been the cornerstone of Fordice's administration.

"I think to be honest we would be much better if the governor did resign," said Wildmon, whose group promotes Christian themes in the media while opposing sexual, anti-Christian and violent messages. "I don't expect it to happen. But the politics is over. The Legislature is not meeting any more (this year)."

Wildmon said it would be "rather foolish" for the governor to call a special session for the Legislature to consider a state income tax cut, as Fordice has said he might do.

Wildmon said he also doubted Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, D-Batesville, would gain an advantage in the gubernatorial race later this year if he were to succeed Fordice now.

An ordained United Methodist minister, Wildmon said it always is regrettable when a marriage breaks up. But he said the news of the pending divorce "explains a lot of things that have happened."

Televised prelude

The main thing that has happened recently concerning the Fordices' marriage is that WLBT-TV reported the governor and Creson vacationed together in France last week. The television station broadcast a photograph of the governor and Creson together at the Memphis International Airport.

WLBT had documents detailing the pair's travel itinerary in France and showing that Fordice had purchased Creson's airline ticket. The station also reported Creson had stayed at the Governor's Mansion and had accompanied the governor to a Gulf Coast casino while the first lady was out of state.

When a reporter for the Jackson station tried to ask the governor about the trip to France, an angry Fordice responded in a threatening manner.

"You have no damn business playing these games," Fordice said.

At the time, Fordice was walking to the mailbox at a home he has purchased in Madison. Pat Fordice told WLBT in April that the governor had purchased the home by himself and had never shown it to her.

According to television reports, Fordice's relationship with Creson goes back to their junior high days in Memphis. They were reacquainted at a reunion in 1992, according to reports. Her husband died in November.

After that 1992 reacquaintance, Fordice issued his "irreconcilable differences" statement in 1993.

But at the time, the divorce never materialized and Fordice campaigned for re-election in 1995 with his wife by his side. When he was asked about his marriage, he snapped, "I don't believe it is any of your business."

Business as usual

In 1996, Fordice suffered a life-threatening highway accident while returning from Memphis, where he was seen in a restaurant with an unidentified woman. Fordice said he did not remember anything about his trip to Memphis.

Despite his marital problems, Fordice has on many occasions criticized President Clinton's personal life. And he has said that a politician's personal life should be open for scrutiny. Yet he has bristled many times at questions about his personal life.

On Thursday, Fordice spokesman Wilbur said the governor's office is operating on a regular basis and that Fordice's personal life is no one's business.

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