Friday, Feb. 29, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Other controversies about the governor and the first lady:
Friends and confidantes of Gov. Jim Gibbons’ are fearing the worst following the awkward revelation Thursday that the governor and his family will meet this weekend to discuss the future of his marriage to first lady Dawn Gibbons.
No divorce papers have been filed and neither the governor nor his wife has said anything about it publicly.
Dianne Cornwall, whose title in the governor’s office is chief operating officer, told the Reno Gazette-Journal about the family meeting. The newspaper posted a story on its Web site Thursday.
Dawn Gibbons didn’t return phone calls from the Sun seeking comment, and the governor declined to comment.
An ally of the governor’s — who was granted anonymity to speak more freely about the governor’s marriage — fears any divorce filing could be public and nasty.
If that’s the case, the source said, Gibbons could face pressure to resign.
A sitting governor separating from his wife is extremely rare in recent American history. Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey separated from their wives during their terms recently, but it has never happened in Nevada.
Even if the Gibbonses can quietly move on, any divorce or official separation could lead to pressure on Gibbons not to run for reelection, three Republican lobbyists said Thursday.
If Gibbons is forced to resign or becomes a lame duck, he and his Republican allies could be weakened in the 2009 legislative session and in the 2010 election, when Nevadans will again elect a governor.
The latest episode is a new chapter in an eccentric governing story of almost perpetual adversity.
Gibbons took office after a tough election campaign in which he was accused of assaulting a cocktail waitress, hiring an illegal immigrant as a nanny and accepting gifts and money from a defense contractor, the final accusation eventually leading to a still-unresolved federal grand jury investigation.
Gibbons’ tenure has been marked by verbal gaffes and questionable appointments, all while the former congressman has tried to steer the state through a sluggish economy, a worsening budget deficit and a foreclosure crisis.
Cornwall’s cryptic statement about the family meeting followed days of rampant speculation in Nevada political quarters, but still left Gibbons supporters flummoxed and questioning why she would make public something that had been largely kept quiet, despite rumors and the unsourced speculation of two widely read bloggers.
Members of Gibbons’ staff had been reticent this week when asked about the rumors. Political insiders said the couple were waiting to meet with their son, who is finishing final exams at the Merchant Marine Academy, before issuing a public statement.
Four confidantes of the governor’s said Cornwall’s statement was a shock and not part of the agreed-upon plan.
The staff and advisers to Gibbons have long been divided between those loyal to the governor and those loyal to the first lady. One ally of the governor said the apparent freelancing by Cornwall, who’s always been close to Dawn Gibbons, is the first sign of a volatile process over which they’ll have no control.
Another family friend, former Gov. Bob List, said it was important to resolve a potential divorce quickly.
“If they do decide to proceed with the divorce, it’s important for them to put it behind them as soon as possible and move on,” he said. “Otherwise, it could become a distraction.”
List, who was divorced two years after leaving office in 1983, said the governor’s mansion can wear on relationships.
“Public life takes a tremendous toll on one’s family,” he said. “It’s very difficult to live in the spotlight, under pressure, for spouses and children, and the official himself.”
He said he doesn’t believe the divorce should matter, because it’s personal.
“People understand that it’s not fair to judge someone else’s private life,” he said.
State Sen. Bob Beers, who challenged Gibbons in the Republican primary but has since supported the governor’s policies, said he couldn’t foresee any legitimate public interest in the governor’s private life.
“There’s a certain prurient interest in the private life of public officials,” Beers said. “Outside of that interest, I don’t think there’s a public policy, government impact to this.”