CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Gov. Kirk Fordice left unanswered Wednesday questions about his activities before a Nov. 5 wreck on Interstate 55 in Yalobusha County nearly killed him.

The governor refused to discuss the reasons for his trip to Memphis on election day. He abruptly changed the subject when pressed by reporters at his first news conference since the accident from which he still is recovering. In so doing, he probably ensured that questions will continue to be asked about it for the rest of his term perhaps the rest of his life. That is a risk of election to high public office.

Fordice said he has no recollection of the one-vehicle accident in his state-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee. He testily deflected questions about newspaper reports that he dined with an unidentified woman at a Germantown restaurant on the day of the wreck. His wife, Pat Fordice, was in France in an official capacity at the time of the accident.

All that having been said or left unsaid, the governor probably will never reveal anything else about that one day in his life. He can't stop other people from asking questions, but he can get on with the business of governing.

Fordice's State of the State address Tuesday afternoon allowed him, not unexpectedly, to express gratitude to God and many people for life and recovery. It was a natural response to a nearly deadly experience. Every Mississippian should share the governor's thanks for his continuing recovery and new opportunities.

Fordice touched briefly on important issues facing his administration and the Legislature. He must, as he said, "seize the opportunity" and seek common ground with the legislative leadership in resolving welfare reforms mandated by federal legislation, decide if and how "charter schools" virtually freed of traditional controls could best serve Mississippi's children, and fairly consider the advantages of appointed appeals court judges.

The legislative leadership, as it did in in 1996, has moved aggressively on its own agenda. The legislative agenda generally is a good one and includes many of the goals Fordice has supported. He and legislators joining forces could produce very strong and progressive legislation in this session that will positively shape public policy into the next century.

The governor, with his strong network in the state's business community, could be especially helpful in moving the Legislature toward consideration of appointed justices of the state Supreme Court and judges of the Mississippi Court of Appeals. Recent campaigns and scandals strongly indicate the need to depoliticize the two highest courts. Many civic leaders, voters and sitting judges fully understand the potential for compromised justice in continuing to elect justices and appeals judges. Money and ideology threaten to override intelligence and non-partisan competence as the preeminent consideration for serving on the highest courts. All Mississippians are ill-served by the weight of politics on the scales of justice.

The removal of electoral politics from those two courts could stand as the benchmark of Fordice's two administrations.

The governor is back. His task is to govern. He has said his piece about Nov. 5, 1996. His job is to look to Mississippi's future and let history judge the quality of his effort.

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