SALTER COLUMN:State would benefit from Mabus as U.S. Navy secretary

The fact that former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus went through a no-holds-barred divorce more than a decade ago is in no way relevant to the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings he’ll face before the Senate Armed Services Committee as President Obama’s nominee for secretary of the U.S. Navy.
What’s relevant is the question of whether Mabus has the skills to lead the Navy in perilous times and in keeping with the philosophies of the Obama administration. As a former governor of Mississippi from 1988-92 and former Clinton administration U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Harvard-educated Mabus clearly possesses that skill set.
The Senate should confirm Mabus’ appointment. Both of Mississippi’s Republican senators – U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker – publicly support the appointment.
For the record, Mabus and his former wife, Julie Hines, were divorced after a 1998 counseling session with a Jackson Episcopal priest in which Mabus and the priest secretly recorded Hines’ conversation.
The content of the taped conversation was used in a bitter battle between the couple over legal custody of their two daughters. The judge in the divorce awarded legal custody to Mabus and split physical custody between him and Hines.
After losing the custody fight, Hines sued the priest, his church and the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, alleging malpractice and fraud. Mabus was not named in the suit because he broke no laws by recording the meeting.
Hines’ 2002 lawsuit against the priest and the church drew national attention as a test case for privacy rights involving churches as she accused the priest and the church of betraying her trust in collusion with Mabus. A judge dismissed Hines’ suit in 2006 and an appeal remains before the state Supreme Court.
Yet however titillating that personal drama might be, the White House responded to a March 29 story in The New York Times rehashing the nasty Mabus divorce in the wake of his nomination as the highest ranking civilian leader of the Navy by confirming that they knew all about the contentious marital split before Mabus was nominated and that President Obama “nominated Gov. Mabus to be secretary of the Navy because he has the proven leadership and experience our nation needs to serve in this important position.”
In the years since the Mabus divorce, Mabus has remarried and his career in business has prospered. Mabus was a road warrior for the Obama campaign nationally – making over 300 campaign appearances in mostly rural areas of the country.
The Mabus daughters – one now following in her dad’s footsteps at Harvard and one still in high school – have been achievers. Mabus has gone on with his life.
So has Hines. Her charitable works among the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and other Southern Sudanese refugees have been notable and admirable.
Mississippi is a shipbuilding state. Northrup Grumman remains one of the state’s major employers and building ships for the U.S. Navy has been part of that company’s core mission.
Ray Mabus should be confirmed as secretary of the Navy – a fact that not even Mississippi Republicans who tried to defeat him in every statewide race he waged are disputing. If a decade-old divorce fight is all they have to throw at him, he will be.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter