Hard-nosed Fordice left Mississippi better than he found it

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 13, 2004

He jabbed his finger into my chest with a fire in his eyes thatonly Governor Kirk Fordice could have and told me that I was now onhis list. “I am keeping a list of people like you,” he said in agrowl.

Taken aback by the governor’s actions and comments, and a bitshaken by the fact the governor of Mississippi was giving me atongue lashing, I responded with, “Governor, what are you talkingabout?”

The occasion was one week after his re-election in 1995, at anews conference in the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce office whenthen-Rep. Mike Parker announced his decision to change politicalparties.

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The governor’s anger was directed at me because of his beliefthat The DAILY LEADER had endorsed his opponent Dick Molpus insteadof him. Reality was we had endorsed neither candidate.

And thus began a rocky relationship with the governor. I wrotehim a letter following the event and voiced my own anger over hiscomments as well as prior comments he made against The DAILY LEADERat a fund-raising meeting in Brookhaven a few months earlier.

I voiced my frustration that I had attended a fund-raising eventonly to listen to him belittle my newspaper to a somewhatuncomfortable crowd. I also used the letter to voice my owndisagreement with his stance on several issues during thecampaign.

He responded with a short typewritten letter that included ahandwritten note at the bottom saying, “here is your hard earnedmoney back” and included a personal check.

That check today is framed and hangs in my office – much, as Iwas told, to his anger when he was informed about the check’slocation.

In the spring of 1999, while riding on the ferry in Mobile Bayone Friday afternoon, his black SUV pulled up next to our vehicle.As the ferry headed out across Mobile Bay, I made my way up to thefront of the vessel where Fordice was holding court. The folks, allAlabamians, were completely mesmerized with the Mississippigovernor, and he was enjoying every minute. We had a friendly chatfor a short period about Mississippi issues.

Gov. Kirk Fordice – you either loved him or hated him. There wasno middle ground. For him, especially to those of us in the media,he had similar feelings and was never reluctant to make thosefeelings known.

Reflecting on him over the past few days since his untimelydeath Tuesday morning, it is fun to remember the colorful characterof Kirk Fordice. But also to be remembered are the accomplishmentshe had as the state’s governor. He brought a businesslike fiscalresponsibility to state government and almost single handedlycreated a two-party political system in what previously had beenthe domain of state Democrats. He stood up for what he believed andput Mississippi first on his agenda, not for personal gain as isthe case with many politicians but because it was the right thingto do.

For Brookhaven he left a wonderful gift, the Mississippi Schoolof the Arts. Despite his opposition to the school, he reluctantlysigned the bill that created it. He told me that day on the ferrythat it was his daughter who saved the school – as she threatenedto never speak to him again if he vetoed it. Holding his thumb andforefinger together, he said, “I came that close!”

We crossed paths several times after he left office but neverdiscussed his list nor his check hanging on my wall. I will holdthat check as a memento of a time in Mississippi when for once,politics were set aside and the betterment of Mississippi was thetop agenda of a very colorful governor. He was an individual whohad his faults, but it can be honestly be said, left the statebetter than how he found it.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.