CARSON CITY, Nev. – The state that pioneered the quickie divorce is witnessing a potentially ugly breakup that has the governor of Nevada fighting to get back into his own mansion.
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons filed for divorce last week after moving out of the 23-room official residence. With his wife, Dawn, ensconced in the Governor’s Mansion, he has gone to court to have her evicted. Entire sitcoms have been built on less. And many Nevadans are fascinated by the whole spectacle.
“This isn’t a tourist attraction, but it’s certainly an attraction,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada.
With a judge sealing most of the records Monday at the governor’s request, the blogosphere is full of rumors about why Gibbons, 63, wants a divorce. He is not talking publicly, and his 54-year-old wife has said she has no idea why he wants to end their marriage of nearly 22 years.
The divorce case – and the potential political fallout – is the latest in a series of difficulties for the first-term governor, including a corruption investigation by the FBI, still under way, and claims by a Las Vegas cocktail waitress that he assaulted her in a parking garage after she rebuffed his advances just before his 2006 election.
Police last year said they found insufficient evidence to support the waitress’s claim. During the furor, Dawn Gibbons literally stood by her husband and resolutely defended him, lending critical support at a supremely perilous moment in his career.
Gibbons moved out of the mansion – a 1908 structure with fluted white Ionic columns, wraparound verandas and a grand, Greek Revival-style portico – sometime earlier this year and returned to the couple’s modest, four-bedroom house about 25 miles away in Reno. He continues to conduct some official business at the mansion before driving back to Reno at night.
The move has raised questions about the governor’s compliance with an 1866 state law that says a governor must “keep his office and reside at the seat of government.”
The Nevada Appeal in Carson City said in an editorial that the governor should be the one living in the mansion – unless “they change its name to the First Lady’s Mansion.”
Gibbons’ press secretary Ben Kieckhefer has described the move to Reno as temporary and said there is no violation of the law.
Dawn Gibbons told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she didn’t ask Gibbons to move out, and that she has been trying to “make sure my marriage works.” She also said she wants to continue performing her duties as first lady and needs to be in the mansion because that is her office and where her staff works.
Besides attending ceremonial functions, the first lady has led the state’s anti-methamphetamine effort and pushed for programs to help autistic children.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” she told the Las Vegas newspaper. “I don’t know why he’s divorcing me. All I’m trying to do is keep it together.” She also complained: “He won’t talk to me. I can’t get ahold of him.”
It has long been known that Gibbons and his wife have had problems, and that has led to some awkward moments.
The governor and first lady avoided each other at a ball held at the state Republican convention last month, arriving and leaving separately.