Like Fordice, Musgrove's future in his control

By Staff
June 27, 2001
It's the economy, Ronnie. It's the troubled teacher pay plan. It's the state budget crisis. It's whether you can mend miles of broken fences in the Legislature.
It's not the divorce. Not by a long shot. Not unless you personally choose to define your political future in terms of the divorce. Why? Call it the Governor's Exemption.
William and Elise Winter maintained a happy home in the Governor's Mansion from 1980-84. Bill Allain was governor for the next four years and let's leave it at that, okay?
Ray and Julie Mabus saw their marriage fail after he left office in 1991.
Kirk and Pat Fordice didn't make it to the finish line in 1999.
Voters already talking
Did the voters gossip about it? Will a hound dog relieve himself on a tree stump? Of course they talked about it.
Talked about Allain. Talked about the Mabuses. Talked about the Fordices, too.
Let's not ignore the fact that hordes of voters had been talking about the Musgroves for over a year as well.
Yet Fordice proved in 1995 that in and of itself, public marital problems have little tangible impact on a sitting governor's political fortunes. In that 1995 re-election campaign, Fordice won a relatively easy win with 55.6 percent of the vote over challenger Dick Molpus.
Some, including the man himself, believe Fordice could just as easily be re-elected today. But there is something we'll call the Governor's Exemption Corollary, which holds that while marital discord alone won't end a political career, one can make the process more difficult to the tenth power through accidents of fate or lapses in judgement.
In Fordice's case, a Nov. 5, 1996 car accident that almost claimed his life damaged his credibility with critics and no few political supporters alike in ways far beyond the April, 1993 announcement of "irreconcilable differences" between he and the First Lady ever did.
An ill-fated June 6, 1999 walk through the Memphis International Airport on the way home from Paris with the woman who would become his second wife on Feb. 26, 2000 resulted in the need for more damage control for the embattled governor.
Does other shoe' drop?
Reacting to the announcement last week that Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and First Lady Melanie Musgrove were divorcing, Republican Fordice offered his Democratic successor some advice of which even the most loyal "Yellow Dog" would approve: "He should stand up on his hind legs and tell people it's nobody's business."
And if Musgrove's "no-fault" divorce goes down that way with no new revelations, no embarrassing stories and no identifiable third party it's unlikely that the divorce itself will cripple a Musgrove re-election bid in 2003.
But the divorce does create a more visible target on Musgrove's back for more tangible problems that have developed on his watch during this first term.
Musgrove's teacher pay plan won't be fully-funded during the 2002 regular session. It's unlikely that the economy will rebound as soon as he and his campaign staff would like. The Mississippi Legislature is as united in their disgust with and dislike of Ronnie Musgrove than with any governor in the 20 years I've been writing about state government.
Unless those things turn around, talking about the impact of the Musgrove divorce is really pointless.
While intimidating some of his critics at times, Fordice never lost control of his political destiny during his dance with the political devil from 1993-99. If Musgrove is to survive his own nightmare, he'd better develop some of Fordice's thick hide and combative nature. He's going to need both traits.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist. He can be reached at 601-961-7084, P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or at ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.

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