BOBBY HARRISON: Rare election night off ended with Fordice’s wreck

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Election day 1996 had the potential to be most enjoyable for me, but as it turned out the word enjoyable was replaced by memorable.
Early on before election day came, I was instructed by my Daily Journal editors that I would not be needed that night. There was no race of any consequence in Mississippi that I needed to cover. The Associated Press would cover the Bob Dole-Bill Clinton presidential race, so I could spend the night at home watching election results.
For a political junkie, that is almost like manna from heaven.
I had always been busy on election night getting news in the paper and never had the opportunity to watch casually the results like a sports fan would enjoy the Super Bowl or the World Series.
The prior year, for instance, I was busy writing on deadline about the gubernatorial election between Dick Molpus and Kirk Fordice and the lieutenant governor’s contest between Ronnie Musgrove and Eddie Briggs.
There is a certain rush (or maybe sheer panic) when a deadline is staring you in the face and you do not have enough information to write a definitive story.
Before 1995, I worked in the Daily Journal office as news editor, and I had a lot of the responsibility for compiling election results from not only the statewide races, but also from what seemed like infinite local contests from the Northeast Mississippi region.
Trust me, there is little time to be a casual follower on election night when you are concerned about who won the District 3 supervisor’s race in Tippah County.
So here it was on election night in November 1996. I was going to go home, eat a nice meal and watch the election results like a regular person.
No responsibility to write a story or compile results was staring me in the face. That was a big deal.
But the best-laid plans … There were not as many cable options back then as there are now. I was watching a local station when a crawl (I think it is called) came across the screen saying then-Gov. Fordice had been involved in a car wreck in north Mississippi.
Interesting, I thought, but concluded it was probably a fender bender since he always traveled with security.
In hindsight, this was probably wishful thinking by someone who really wanted to watch election results unimpeded. After all, it was earlier that year when then-Lt. Gov. Musgrove had been in a life-threatening wreck as a passenger in a Highway Patrol vehicle while traveling in south Mississippi to give a speech.
It was not long before another crawl came across the television screen saying the governor was being transported to University Medical Center in Jackson.
I realized then there would be no casual viewing of election results that night. I called the Daily Journal office, reported to the editors that I was going to UMC and would let them know more when I did.
As it turned out, Fordice was transported by vehicle from a hospital in Greenwood to UMC in Jackson. My recollection was that the weather prevented the use of the helicopter.
As I waited outside of UMC with other reporters, I occasionally stuck my head in one of the television news vans and watched the election results.
Finally, the governor’s ambulance arrived. A little while later, an emergency room surgeon held a news conference where he described a litany of injuries to the governor – many of them life-threatening.
Facing that proverbial deadline, I scrambled to find a phone where I gave an oral report to the Daily Journal editors who put some semblance of my words in the newspaper.
Back then, I did not have a cellphone, and there was no time to break out my portable computer, which by today’s standards would be only a step up from a manual typewriter.
That trip to UMC that election night was the first of many daily visits to the hospital to receive updates on the governor’s slow recovery.
The wrecks and the events surrounding the one-vehicle accident – the fact he was dining with another woman in Memphis while his wife was out of the country – shaped most of the governor’s second term, which was just beginning.
And it all happened on an election night where I thought I was not going to do anything but sit back and soak in the results.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’sCapitol Bureau chief. Contact him atbobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call(601) 353-3119.