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Nevada now abuzz over the Governor's marriage

February 28, 2008 |  7:51 pm

An unusual personal, political and media drama is unfolding in Nevada this evening, which is called the Silver State because the Golden State name was taken.

Until this afternoon hardly anyone knew or at least talked openly about the strained emerging relationship between Gov. Jim Gibbons and his wife Dawn.

The pair, pictured here, are each successful politicians in their own right. A former combat pilot in both Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf war and then a commercial pilot and lawyer, Gibbons spent eight years as a state assemblyman before being elected to five terms in the U.S. House in 1996. He's Mormon; she's Presbyterian.

Dawn Gibbons, who is 10 years younger than her husband, won her husband's old state seat when he went to Congress and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination to fill Gibbons' House seat when he became governor two years ago. The couple met on a blind date and have three children: Chris, Jennifer and Jimmy and three grandchildren. But neither of their official biographies provides a marriage date.

For the last week, muffled rumors about the marriage have swirled....

within the smaller Nevada media and political circles. Yet, with the exception of one obscure blogger, surprisingly, no one wrote or talked publicly about the story, figuring as political consultant Chuck Muth put it in his blog today, they didn't see any connection between "a difficult personal private problem" and any effects on state government.

That's such a crazy, reasoned approach in today's voracious 24-hour news cycle that it worked, at least in Nevada.

But the story is blazing around the state as darkness falls, not because of competitive media seeking a salacious story, but because of a top government aide. Inexplicably, Diana Cornwall, who has the title of chief operating office for the Governor's Office,  brought up the subject today.

She confirmed the rumors and, as blogger Jon Ralston put it, "opened the floodgates." She also said family members were having a private meeting to decide their future this weekend when, Jimmy, one of the Gibbons children, returns home from the Merchant Marine Academy.

Once a government official speaks openly on the record, there's no way the story could be contained, however thoughtful the intention or how much the local mainstream media fear being blamed now for prying into the private affairs of public figures without some justification involving governmental duties.

"Many families go through difficult times and the Gibbons family is no exception," Jim Denton, a longtime Gibbons advisor told the Associated Press. "Unfortunately, their role in public life has brought this into the public arena, which doesn't happen with most people."

But without the aide's statement, the matter would have likely remained private at least through the weekend.

An interesting issue for discussion at some seminar for journalists and government communications types: "Should public officials open their mouths and speak stupidly to force sympathetic media members to cover an embarrassing story they'd really rather not because it has no visible impact on public business?"

--Andrew Malcolm