Govs' Gaffes Sometimes Overshadow Policies

When Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, recently (6/18) told a small group of high school girls "it's about time a woman became governor" of the Sunshine State, he apparently forgot about Janet Reno, a leading contender for the Florida Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

It's not the first time a governor has put a proverbial foot in his or her mouth. And it won't be the last.

Embarrassing moments like this could severely hamper an official's ability to do his job or even win re-election. More often than not, gaffes overshadow the real work a politician is doing, says John Wodele, a spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. "The media takes gaffes and gives them more play than policies he's backing, and that's the worst effect (these comments) have on politics," he says.

Sometimes the ever-inquiring press causes politicians to lose their cool.

Last February, Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum got himself in hot water when he referred to a reporter as a "dumb son of a b---h." The incident occurred at the end of a satellite news session when McCallum didn't realize his microphone was still on.

A similar slip up took place during the 2000 presidential campaign, when former Gov. George W. Bush referred to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer as a "major league a--hole." Late-night talk show hosts including CBS' David Letterman had a field day with the expression, and Dick Cheney's "big time" rejoinder.

Sometimes a slip of the tongue involves getting the facts wrong, instead of uttering profanities.

Gov. Gray Davis in August 2000 was speaking at a session hosted by staff of NBC's "West Wing" at the Democratic National Convention, and didn't know when the show was on. He said "West Wing" was his staff's favorite and that although they work late, "everything stops at 10 p.m. so we can watch."

The governor forgot the show starts at 9 p.m. on the West Coast.

Gubernatorial hopefuls sometimes get started early in making gaffes. State legislator and GOP gov. wanna-be John Sanchez of New Mexico recently referred to the state as a "banana republic" and is now taking heat for the comment on the campaign trail.

In Massachusetts, Democratic hopeful Shannon O'Brien recently took on a businessman who said during a breakfast forum that most politicians don't know how to spell accountability.

Trying her hand at an early-morning spelling bee, O'Brien, who serves as the Commonwealth's treasurer, inconveniently dropped the last "i." The Boston Herald reports that most people in the audience didn't pick up the slip, but word spread quickly and the Associated Press put a story on the wire that may haunt O'Brien.

As for Gov. Ventura, he has made more than his fair share of verbal slip-ups since taking office in 1998, providing the press with lots of gaffe-filled fodder.

Publications including the online zine Salon have dedicated entire stories to Ventura miscues .

Among the more infamous comments over the years:

  • Ventura opined that he'd like to be reincarnated as a size 38 DD brassiere.
  • Ventura said more guns, and specifically concealed weapons, would have allowed Columbine students and faculty to better defend themselves against the attack that left 13 dead.
  • The governor joked on a late-night talk show that the roads of St. Paul were confusing because they'd been crafted by a bunch of drunken Irishmen.
  • In a 1999 interview with Playboy magazine, Ventura said organized religion was a "crutch for weak-minded people."

Spokesperson Wodele says the Playboy comments have haunted his boss ever since, and he even had to explain the governor's comments to his own mother, a staunch Catholic. "She said, Why Johnny, why would he say that?'" he says.

Wodele says the governor's verbal slip-ups have become so numerous that he's stopped ranking his favorites. "It's like trying to pick out your favorite rainy day in Seattle," he says.