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Kirk Fordice; Miss. Governor Stirred Controversy

Associated Press
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page B06

Kirk Fordice, 70, the hard-nosed millionaire businessman who became Mississippi's first Republican governor in more than 100 years, serving from 1992 to 2000, died Sept. 7 at a hospital in Jackson, Miss. He had leukemia.

Gov. Fordice, a Memphis native, upset incumbent Ray Mabus (D) in 1991 to become Mississippi's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Although he was popular with voters, his two terms were marred by racial tensions and sex scandals.

Kirk Fordice's tenure as governor from 1992 to 2000 was marked by racial tensions and sex scandals.

A few days after he was sworn in, Gov. Fordice threatened to call out the National Guard if the state was ordered to spend more money on its three historically black colleges.

Moreover, Jewish groups were outraged by his reference to the United States as a "Christian nation." Environmentalists were upset by his reference to them as "tree huggers," and he once referred to the governor of neighboring Louisiana as a nitwit.

Gov. Fordice only seemed to grow more popular with conservative Mississippians. He led a push for an income tax reduction, helped the legislature craft welfare reform and touted anti-crime plans.

His most raucous debates were over racial issues. Black lawmakers, angered by his push for term limits, walked out on his 1994 state of the state address. In his 1996 inaugural speech, he touched on race again, saying, "Mississippi doesn't do race anymore."

He added: "The 1960s are over. . . . We will acknowledge our history, but we will not let it determine our future. The only race that we're concerned with is the race for more jobs, for better schools, for safer neighborhoods and the race for lower taxes."

In 1996, he faced another controversy when he tried to push the state Senate to confirm four white men to the college board. After a court battle and two rejections by the Senate, Gov. Fordice backed down and offered four new picks, including a black man and a white woman.

His private life made headlines several times during his term. In 1993, he revealed that he had "irreconcilable differences" with his wife of 40 years, Pat Fordice. She said she had no intention of getting a divorce.

The couple reconciled temporarily. Then, in November 1996, Gov. Fordice was seriously injured in an accident while driving back from Memphis, where employees of a Germantown, Tenn., restaurant said they had seen him eating lunch and drinking wine with a middle-aged blond woman.

He later called for President Bill Clinton to resign following a sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"Stop the stonewalling, stop the obfuscation and tell the American people the real truth," he said, referring to Clinton.

But in June 1999, Gov. Fordice was caught on television returning from a vacation to France with his high school sweetheart.

"Let me tell you something," Gov. Fordice told the television reporter, "you invade my privacy this way, six months from now, I'll whip your ass. You have no damn business playing these games."

Later in 1999, Gov. Fordice announced that he was divorcing his wife, and shortly after leaving office in January 2000, he married Ann G. Creson of Memphis. He and Creson later divorced.

Survivors include four children from the first marriage.

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