Under the playfully watchful eye of Clifford the Big Red Dog, first lady Dawn Gibbons extolled the virtues of the Crystal Darkness anti-methamphetamine campaign before a gathering of fifth graders and reporters Thursday afternoon at Hollingsworth Elementary School.
For the record, the reporters were the tall ones with the notebooks and cameras.
Caricatures of Clifford, the Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter, Little Critter, and Ms. Frizzle of "The Magic Magic School Bus" looked on in wonder from the library's walls. Amid the stacks of children's books, the fifth-graders' astonished expressions spoke volumes. Their looks said, "This press conference must be very important."
They didn't know, of course, that the reporters had converged on the inner-city school to ask the first lady questions not suitable for children. In court filings, she has accused the governor of seeing another woman, specifically the wife of a Reno podiatrist. Why, that horny little critter.
After the school ceremony, reporters gathered near Dawn Gibbons and probably expected to receive a quick, "No comment." What they got instead was a glimpse of stocking, metaphorically speaking, from the first lady.
On the advice of her capable counsel, Cal Dunlap, she said she couldn't comment. But she did have time to describe herself as a "role model" for women in their 50s who suddenly find themselves slapped with divorce.
"I need to be strong not only for myself, but for others," she said.
She added, "I have to do what my counsel says."
She also added that she'll continue to wear her wedding ring as long as she's still married, and difficult divorce "happens to women all the time," and that Las Vegas "is a community that gets things going."
Did she regret her decision to stand by her man when he was accused of attempting to sexually accost local cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo?
"That's one I'm really not going to answer," she said knowingly.
Lest anyone think otherwise, she assured them, "Whether I'm the first lady or not, I'm still going to be working on the Crystal Darkness campaign, and working on autism."
Dawn Gibbons exhibited her trademark charm and underrated skill in dealing with the press. Selfless and true, that's the first lady - or at least that's the image she projects while taking the advice of counsel and almost not commenting. The first lady gives the best "no comment" in town.
It helps when you have an attorney pistol-whipping a sitting governor in court documents.
"Truth, despite his disingenuous, shallow, and transparent protestations that his relationship with another man's wife is a mere friendship, his infatuation and involvement with the other woman is the real, concealed and undisclosed reason for his voluntary departure from the marriage and from the Mansion where he occasionally resided," Dunlap wrote in his motion seeking to have the divorce proceedings opened to the public because of the governor's public figure status.
Nevada law allows one party, in this case the state's chief executive, to keep the proceedings closed.
Facing invective like that, the governor is in big trouble. So, I suspect, is the image of the first lady as the devoted spouse victimized by Gigolo Jim. Her days of visiting schoolchildren could be numbered.
She leaves the governor no choice but to respond to her allegations.
Thanks to his idiotic decision to file for divorce while occupying the state's highest office, he's set himself up as the buffoon in chief unless he returns fire.
His administration is doing a slow, steady bleed. His political career is circling the drain.
Fallout from the divorce, which only figures to worsen now that a video capturing him and the "marital intruder" in public has surfaced, is turning Gibbons' sincere attempts at governing into the stuff of Henny Youngman: "Take my wife - please."
If Gibbons can, he must hit back very soon if he's to salvage any credibility. That's likely to change the public's perception of the first lady and will surely encourage counterpunching from the bruising Dunlap.
But what choice does the governor have now?
While some of his loyal friends in the Republican Party are prepping others for his office, the growing question is whether Jim Gibbons can keep his administration from going to the big red dogs.
Cover your eyes, Clifford, the worst is yet to come.
• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.