Public display of heartbreak

In Sin City, a town that prides itself on nuptials, with drive-through weddings and vows taken in places like the Graceland Wedding Chapel and the Little White Wedding Chapel in the Sky (a hot air balloon), life is getting interesting. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) last week issued a statement saying his family would hold a meeting over the weekend to determine whether he and his wife Dawn would divorce.

That begs the question: Has the governor and former congressman opened up a proverbial can of worms for the entire Nevada delegation, forcing them to answer questions about their marriages?

Even Gibbons’s press shop appears to have gone into crisis mode, even after issuing such a provocative release.   

To find out what happened at the Gibbons family meeting, The Hill was referred to Dan Burns, spokesman for the Nevada Division of Emergency Management. Burns said the office would not “be commenting about the governor’s personal life,” and in turn directed queries to Jim Denton, one of the governor’s political consultants.

Denton said the family meeting might have been delayed because Gibbons’s son didn’t get home until noon on Saturday. Denton said he hadn’t spoken with the governor since then, but plans on speaking with Gibbons later this week.

“I’ve known the governor and first lady for almost two decades,” Denton said. “I know that this is a very, very difficult time for both of them.”

Gibbons’s family meeting, whatever the details, shouldn’t open the delegation to any more scrutiny than usual.

Nevada lawmakers are known for being open about the ups and downs of their marriages and relationships.

When Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) split from his wife in 2005, he announced it publicly. The 52-year-old congressman was soon back on the dating scene, and has since appeared in public with his new girlfriend, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Veronica Meter. Meter, who is 18 years younger than Porter, also proves that Nevada politicos like to keep their love lives within the state’s delegation. She was reportedly romantically linked to Jack Finn, a former press secretary to Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

 Which brings us to Ensign himself. Ensign missed votes during a family crisis in early 2002. He didn’t make it back to Washington after the Presidents Day recess, skipping out on two federal-judge confirmations, among other official business.

Although his absence was conspicuous, all that was revealed at the time came in a curt statement from his spokeswoman, who told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the senator was “dealing with a family matter, and he’s asked for privacy” — a statement vague enough to lead to speculation over the health of his marriage. But six years later, Ensign is still married to wife Darlene.

Then there is Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who divorced her first husband well before coming to Congress. She met her current spouse, Larry Lehrner — a kidney doctor and former Republican — in 1997 while on the congressional campaign trail.

But this divorce and remarriage wasn’t messy — in fact, it has been the opposite. Berkley’s ex-husband continues to attend Berkley’s family reunions in Disneyland with his new wife.

“As public servants, our lives are in the spotlight, and that includes family,” said Berkley.

Like Berkley, other Nevada lawmakers were decidedly low-key about the Gibbons family’s situation. Porter’s office offered this obvious non-answer, despite the fact that he has put his own personal life in the public eye:

“Congressman Porter will not comment on what is a personal matter for the governor,” said spokesman Matt Leffingwell. He would also not comment on whether Gibbons’s announcement opens the delegation to personal questions about marital issues.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the delegation’s biggest inspiration when it comes to love — he married his high school sweetheart.

All of this personal tumult among Nevada’s political leaders could be a product of the state’s quirks when it comes to unions and dissolutions. After all, it has both the quickie-marriage capital of the country — Las Vegas — and the quickie divorce capital — Reno — within its borders. Couples can order a marriage in a drive-through chapel the way others order onion rings and a milkshake. Spurned lovers seeking divorce are said to take to a famous bridge — in this case, the one over Truckee River — to chuck their wedding rings into the water.