While thinking of greater good, first lady also must think of her dignity

Common sense tells us that Jim Gibbons should be living in the governor’s mansion and Dawn Gibbons should be back in the family home in Reno, if their marital difficulties require time apart.

The public perception is that she ordered him out. But on Wednesday she told me: “I’m not saying I won’t move, but I’m trying to make sure my marriage works. I keep on doing my job, I’m trying to function at work, and hopefully things will come together and work out. … But he won’t talk to me.”

The governor’s political consultant, Jim Denton, issued a written statement Friday saying the couple are living apart. “Currently, he entertains and conducts needed state business at the mansion, but is temporarily staying in the Reno residence while going through this difficult and painful time. I know they are working toward a resolution and he asks that the family’s personal privacy be respected.”

Dawn Gibbons said her husband’s move back to their Reno home was not at her request. “I certainly didn’t ask him to leave. I had nothing to do with it.”

She said his clothes and boots are still at the mansion. “I’m standing in the closet looking at them right now,” she said.

The lines of communication have been cut from his end, said his wife of more than 20 years. “I can’t get ahold of him.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know why he’s divorcing me. All I’m trying to do is keep it together,” she said. “I never asked him to move out.”

No divorce papers have been filed, she said.

“I can hardly make it through the day,” she said, starting to cry.

But she wants to continue doing her duties as first lady.

She understands that news reports that he’s left the mansion while she stays reflect badly on her and she’s losing whatever public empathy or sympathy she had. “I can’t win, I know that.”

Nevada law says the governor needs to “reside” in Carson City. That’s why a mansion was built.

He needs to do that.

Dawn Gibbons said she needs to be in the mansion because that’s her office and the place where her staff works.

“I’m the one that’s being thrown out,” she said, in the first public indication that it’s the governor who wants to end the marriage rather than his wife.

The public perception is that Dawn Gibbons is some kind of squatter armed with a shotgun saying, “Hell, no, I won’t go.” That’s not the image she wants or deserves.

Through his spokesman, Ben Kieckhefer, Gibbons declined to confirm that it was his choice to leave the mansion or that he’s ceased communicating with his wife. “The governor in recent weeks has remained focused on the business of the state, dealing with the earthquake, the budget shortfall and the creation of the SAGE commission” to find ways to save tax dollars, Kieckhefer said, and talking about his personal life in the media isn’t going to resolve his personal difficulties.

There are practical reasons why the governor needs to live in Carson City. Sure there are phones and BlackBerrys, but in a true emergency, he doesn’t need to be wasting time driving back and forth to Carson City, especially when Northern Nevada has been struck by floods, earthquakes, and, as I write this Wednesday, a wildfire burning between Washoe Valley and Reno. (Plus, there was a locust at my front door today.)

Hypothetically, something is wrong if Dawn Gibbons is holding down the fort at the mansion and Jim Gibbons has trouble getting to the capital.

By not moving out, Dawn Gibbons hurts herself more than she hurts him.

While they struggle with their personal life, she can and should continue to use her position as first lady to campaign for autism and against meth and speak out on her issues. She can use such appearances as proof that despite her personal problems, she’s thinking of the greater good of Nevadans. She should not be denied access to her office in the mansion.

It must be hard for the first lady to say, “I didn’t want this.”

But whatever has happened in their marriage, she should cling not to the mansion, but to her dignity

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call (702) 383-0275.

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