In 1991, having never before held public office, Kirk Fordice was elected Mississippi’s first Republican governor in 118 years. In his successful reelection bid in 1995, he became the first Mississippi governor to succeed himself in more than a century.
Daniel Kirkwood Fordice was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 10 February 1934. He attended Purdue University, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and a master’s degree one year later. Fordice then served two years’ active duty with the US Army, followed by eighteen years in the Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of colonel in 1977.
At the time of his election to the governorship, Fordice was the CEO of Fordice Construction, a heavy-construction general contracting firm in Vicksburg. He had previously served as president of the Associated General Contractors of America, a position in which he often dealt with state and federal governments.
Fordice joined the Republican Party in 1964 and developed strong and long-lasting connections to party leaders and financial contributors. He campaigned as a business leader and benefited from voters’ frustration about incumbent Democratic governor Ray Mabus’s reform efforts. Fordice narrowly defeated Mabus in 1991 and won reelection four years later over Dick Molpus by a much wider margin, campaigning on platforms to lower taxes, encourage more local control over schools, and create a climate for business growth. Fordice also supported the goals of religious conservatives, such as limiting access to abortion and supporting prayer in schools.
As governor, Fordice became famous for his bluntness, which he attributed to the fact that he was not a conventionally polished politician. He attracted considerable criticism for remarks about the possibility of calling out the National Guard to oppose raising taxes to improve historically African American universities, and his second race for the governor’s office included bitter disagreements about whether his marital difficulties should be part of political discussions.
While governor, Fordice chaired the Southern Governors’ Association and the Southern Growth Policies Board and was instrumental in bringing the annual meetings of both organizations to Biloxi. An avid sportsman, outdoorsman, and horseman, Fordice held lifelong memberships in the National Rifle Association, the Nature Conservancy, and the American Quarter Horse Association. He was also a member of the Game Conservation International Club and Safari International.
After leaving the governor’s office, Fordice remained in Jackson and played an active role in business and civic affairs. Twice divorced, he died in Jackson in 2004.
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1992–2000)
- Jere Nash and Andy Taggart, Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976–2008 (2nd ed. 2009)