It was great having Ev Mecham as the governor of Arizona.
We never had a dull week where the moron
didnt put his foot in his mouth and offend somebody.
Ev Mecham was a racist, homophobic, religious crackpot
who always doing stupid things to amuse the people he ruled.
February 22, 2008 - 10:15PM
Former Gov. Evan Mecham dies at age 83
Mark Flatten, Tribune
Arizona's political history turned on Evan Mecham. The former governor ran as an outsider, a self-styled political reformer doing battle with what he deemed the corrupt elite, a cabal of crooked politicians, wealthy power brokers and their pawns in the media.
Mecham's 15 months in office were the most bitter and divisive in the state's history. Though his term as governor ended with his impeachment 20 years ago, the bitterness and divisions it left still linger.
Mecham, 83, died Thursday. He spent his last years being cared for in the dementia unit of the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix. He was discharged Feb. 13 to the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, and later transferred to hospice care in Gilbert.
Mecham is survived by his wife, Florence, and seven children. A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. March 1 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 4901 W. Union Hills Drive, in Glendale. Until then, state flags will be flown at half-staff.
Even today, former House Minority Leader Art Hamilton, a Phoenix Democrat, counts his February 1988 vote to impeach Mecham as the one among thousands cast in his legislative career that he would like to take back. There was good cause to impeach Mecham, Hamilton said Friday, but by the time the House voted for impeachment, the fiery governor was facing a voter-led recall election.
It would have been easier for the state to heal if lawmakers had left it to voters to decide Mecham's fate, Hamilton said.
"I really do believe the facts indicated that the vote I cast was the correct one," Hamilton said. "I just think, in terms of the political reality of it all, we would have been better off to let the recall proceed. The voters would have done it themselves. It would have removed, at least from those who saw it as a political lynching, the taint that this was simply, 'Let's get Evan Mecham.' "
His political rise and fall was the most stunning in state history. Making his fifth run for governor in 1986, Mecham pulled off upsets in both the Republican primary and the general election, which he won with 39 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
A year later, Mecham was facing the triple threat of impeachment, recall and criminal indictment.
In April 1988, he became the only governor in Arizona history to be removed from office through impeachment. He later beat criminal charges brought by the state attorney general's office alleging he illegally concealed a $350,000 loan to his campaign.
While in office, Mecham sharply divided Arizonans and became a beacon for national scorn over remarks about homosexuals, blacks, Jews, Asians and other minorities.
To his supporters, he was an ideological purist, an honest man who was willing to take on the special interests as he pressed his conservative political and social agenda.
To his enemies, Mecham was an intolerant buffoon seeking to impose his moral beliefs on the rest of the state.
To those who fell in the middle, Mecham was a man who bent the rules out of his own sense of self-righteousness, and brought disrepute to the state through his political tone-deafness.
"We saw Arizona divided," former Rep. Mark Killian, a Mesa Republican, said Friday of the Mecham era. "What we were experiencing was the anger of those who opposed the governor and the anger of those who supported the governor."
Killian voted against impeachment in the House. What is lost in the controversy about Mecham is that he reversed the trend of annual tax increases and brought control to state spending during his brief time in office, Killian said.
"All of the controversies that surrounded Governor Mecham overshadowed all of the good things that he was doing," Killian said.
Former Gov. Jane Hull is among those glad the era is 20 years behind us. The impeachment was not without political consequences for Republicans who voted to impeach, with both the House speaker and Senate president losing in GOP primaries that fall. Hull, then majority leader, became House speaker.
"It was a very difficult time for everybody, and I'm just glad to see it gone," she said. "More than anything, I feel bad for his family."
Mesa Sen. Karen Johnson, a former Mecham aide, said he was targeted from the moment he took office because he was an outsider and a strict constitutionalist.
"I never looked at Evan as a politician. He was a statesman through and through, and a consummate family man," she said. "I think his (political) demise was planned. They knew he would not put up with their funny business."
Political insiders scoffed at Mecham's candidacy when he announced he would make his fifth run for governor in July 1986. The Glendale car dealer and World War II fighter pilot had enjoyed just one prior electoral success, a single two-year term in the state Senate that began in 1961.
Mecham took on House Majority Leader Burton Barr of Phoenix, then considered the most powerful Republican in Arizona. Barr was the ultimate political wheeler-dealer who controlled the state House and negotiated deals with Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat.
Barr was backed by Arizona's political, corporate and media elite. He led Mecham by a 2-to-1 ratio in public opinion polls and outspent him tenfold.
But Mecham masterfully turned Barr's own resume against him, alleging that the longtime legislative insider was doing the bidding of the Phoenix 40, a secretive and influential group of business and political leaders at the time. Mecham also claimed in tabloids he published and news conferences he held that Barr had used inside knowledge to buy key parcels of land in the path of a planned Valley freeway, and used his position to protect corrupt special interests.
Mecham's upset win over Barr in the September 1986 primary sent political shock waves through Arizona. As stunning as that was, it was surpassed two months later when Mecham emerged as victor in the three-way general election.
Mecham's downfall began the day he took office in January 1987.
In his first week as governor, Mecham repealed the state holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., saying at one point its supporters just wanted a day off with pay.
Mecham stated, correctly, that the attorney general's office had determined the state holiday created through an executive order by Babbitt was illegal. But Mecham's blunt handling of the repeal enraged many minorities, Democrats and Republicans, and caused a national backlash. Conventions were canceled, and tourism suffered.
"He might very well have been right in terms of the legality of it," said Hamilton, a longtime champion of the King holiday. "What ultimately caused the response to him was not merely what he did, but what in fact he said - that this was going to be his first official act as governor. It simply indicated an insensitivity to this issue and a failure to realize that we had paid a very high price for letting this become the divisive issue that it was."
Mecham further stoked the fires by declaring that homosexuality was not a legitimate lifestyle, and that gays and lesbians had no place in government. He told a Jewish audience that the United States was a "Christian nation." He said referring to black children as "pickaninnies" was a term of endearment, and that Japanese businessmen get "round eyes" when they see Arizona's golf courses.
Phoenix lawyer Paul Eckstein, part of the legal team hired to make the impeachment case against Mecham in the Senate, said much of what the former governor said and did was rooted in his upbringing in rural Utah in the 1920s and '30s. The "pickaninny" flub was a prime example.
"That's just emblematic of how he viewed the world," Eckstein said. "I don't think he grew politically."
In the ensuing months, Mecham fought a series of bitter battles with legislators he deemed disloyal, and media members he deemed hostile. Mecham declared a conservative columnist a "nonperson" and snapped at a reporter never to ask him for a "true statement" again.
But Mecham also claimed success during the single legislative session of his term. He held the line on state spending while blocking tax increases. Mecham is credited with resurrecting the Arizona Department of Weights and Measures. He signed a series of bills aimed at reforming the civil court system and expanding the state's health care program for the poor to provide long-term care for the elderly and disabled.
Mecham was alsoa driving force in getting the nation's governors to pressure Congress to repeal the 55 mph speed limit.
In July 1987, Ed Buck, a gay Republican and self-made millionaire, launched a recall drive against Mecham, declaring that his insensitive remarks and appointment of unqualified zealots to state offices had brought disrepute to the state and hurt its economy.
Mecham dismissed the recall supporters as "a band of homosexuals and a few disgruntled Democrats." But after just a few months of circulating petitions, the recall committee in November filed nearly 400,000 signatures, more than enough to force Mecham into a new election. A third of those who signed the petitions were Republicans.
Even so, some political observers say Mecham might have won a recall election on a crowded ballot with support from his conservative GOP base.
But by the time the recall petitions were certified, Mecham's troubles were mounting on other fronts. In January 1988, Attorney General Bob Corbin, a Republican, announced the indictment of the governor on six felony counts alleging he conspired to hide a $350,000 loan from Tempe lawyer Barry Wolfson.
Mecham secured the loan to help finance his campaign but did not report it on either his campaign or personal financial disclosure statements, according to the indictment.
He claimed he never intended to hide the loan and had lumped it in with other loans made to his campaign on the disclosure statements.
Within days of the indictment, a special counsel hired by the state House of Representatives to investigate whether Mecham should face impeachment delivered a report outlining three potential grounds.
Aside from the Wolfson loan, special counsel William French said Mecham had improperly loaned $80,000 in quasi-state funds to his Glendale Pontiac dealership, and that he had tried to block a criminal investigation of death threats made against his legislative liaison shortly before she testified to the state grand jury.
The loan had come from Mecham's "protocol fund," which he set up with money raised from his inaugural ball. Mecham said he repaid the loan, with interest, and that the only restriction on the fund was that it could not be used for campaign purposes.
Mecham also denied covering up any investigation of the alleged death threats made by a staff member.
Former Rep. Jim Skelly, a Scottsdale Republican, said there was much to admire about Mecham. Skelly became the face of the House impeachment proceedings as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which held investigative hearings prior to the impeachment vote.
"It was our constitutional duty," said Skelly, who voted for impeachment. "He was a good family man and a man who stood up for his beliefs. He tried his best and just didn't do it properly."
On Feb. 5, 1988, the House voted to impeach Mecham on all three counts. After a trial in the Senate, Mecham was convicted and removed from office two months later. The Senate convicted Mecham on the charges involving the protocol fund and the so-called death threat. Because of the pending criminal charges, the Senate did not vote on the Wolfson loan.
Mecham was later acquitted on all criminal charges.
The Senate decided against invoking a so-called "Dracula clause," which would have prevented Mecham from running for office again. He made an unsuccessful challenge to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 1992, running as an independent.
Those involved in Mecham's impeachment say his tenure changed the nature of Arizona politics and increased power among conservative Republicans. Several moderate Republican lawmakers who voted against the governor were defeated in GOP primaries.
"The impeachment and the conviction were a political earthquake," Eckstein said. "All wasn't peaches and cream during the Babbitt years. But it was pretty darn civil compared to what it is today."
Tribune writer Mary K. Reinhart contributed to this report.
Mecham had impact on supporters, foes
Evan Mecham, a controversial figure, had an impact on the state both through those who agreed with him and those who vigorously fought his ideas, political observers say.
Former state Sen. Alan Stephens, now chief of staff to Gov. Janet Napolitano, said Mecham staked out conservative positions, such as a desire for minimal government, that still are part of political thought in Arizona.
"He pushed the dialogue toward the right in the state," said Stephens.
He noted that many Mecham supporters still are active in Arizona politics.
But Stephens and others said the state was also changed by those who rallied in opposition to some things Mecham did, such as his 1987 rescinding of a state holiday honorign the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Steve Roman, now a partner in the public-policy firm of Hamilton, Gullett, Davis and Roman, was a senior vice president for Valley National Bank during the Mecham era and chaired or co-chaired campaigns aimed at getting voters to approve a holiday for King.
State voters approved the holiday in 1992.
Mecham's decision to dump the holiday damaged the state's image nationwide, Roman said, deterring tourism and causing people from other states to lose respect for Arizona. However, Roman said, the issue rallied residents to demonstrate that the state at large was tolerant, and that was a good thing.
"The ultimate outcome . . . was beneficial, in that we became the only state that actually voted on this issue and voted to approve a holiday, which in effect took us from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile," Roman said. "I believe the ultimate outcome was positive, but getting there was a bad time for the state. I wish it didn't have to happen."
Stephens, too, said Mecham's decision to rescind the holiday "galvanized" Arizonans to get King Day approved.
Cloves Campbell Jr., co-publisher of The Arizona Informant, which covers news of interest to the African-American community in Phoenix, said the holiday controversy alerted people that there were still racial tensions in Arizona and brought many people out of their apathy.
"It not only put us on the map for racial reasons, but it gave us a chance to show that we do have people who do have a sense of equality about them," said Campbell. "It made the state come together a little more."
Campbell's father, the late Cloves Campbell Sr., published the newspaper before him and was deeply involved in covering the controversies surrounding Mecham.
Cloves Campbell Sr., who died in 2004, kept mementos of the Mecham days, including a bumper sticker that read, "Un-Pickanniny: Recall Evan Mecham," a reference to Mecham's use of the term "pickaninny" to refer to African-American children.
The younger Campbell said Mecham's ultra-conservative attitudes, fostered by his upbringing, distorted his view of African-Americans.
"I think he did have a negative impact on the African-American community," Campbell Jr. said of Mecham, "and I don't think he really was sensitive to African-Americans. I think the way he was raised was the way he thought and felt."
Mecham's legacy is not such that he is likely to be widely praised, Campbell said, adding, "I don't expect to see any libraries named after him."
Former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham dies at 83
Evan Mecham, the feisty, ultra-conservative Pontiac dealer whose turbulent tenure as governor deeply divided Arizona and prompted his impeachment in 1988, died Thursday after a long illness.
He was 83.
His son, Dennis Mecham, said he died quietly at 9:50 p.m. at a hospice in the East Valley from circumstances related to his age.
"He just quietly passed away," Dennis Mecham said Friday.
Mecham, who served just 15 months as Arizona's 17th governor, spent the last four years of his life in the dementia unit of the Arizona State Veteran Home, a spokesman for the home said. He was moved to the veteran's hospital in mid-February, almost exactly 20 years from the date he was impeached by the Arizona House of Representatives. On the morning of his death, family members moved him to the hospice, his son said.
He was remembered Friday by those close to him as a dedicated family man and patriot.
"There has been so much controversy about him, but he was such a good man," said Christine Mecham, who is married to one of Mecham's nephews. "He was a delightful person with a good sense of humor, and people don't know that about him."
Sen. Karen Johnson, a Mesa Republican who worked as Mecham's receptionist, called him a "great man." And U.S. Sen. John McCain, now the presumptive 2008 Republican presidential nominee who defeated Mecham's challenge as an independent for his Senate seat in 1992, said Friday that Mecham was "an important part of the Republican Party."
But many Arizonans remember Mecham much differently. His death closes a chapter of Arizona history that many members of the state's political establishment would just as soon forget. That period during the late 1980s was rife with bitter political infighting, public name-calling, blaring headlines, citizen outrage and, finally, campaign repercussions that lasted well into the 1990s as Mecham and his supporters continued to run against, and sometimes unseat, political enemies.
Attorney General Terry Goddard, who served as mayor of Phoenix during Mecham's tenure and then ran unsuccessfully for governor in the next election, called the era a "time of constant tumult for our state."
"He was a transitional figure in some ways, and I'm confident he did what he thought was the right things - it was not a widely shared belief," Goddard said Friday. "He said exactly what he believed and he said it exactly as it came to his mind."
Gov. Rose Mofford said Mecham's impeachment was "sad for many of us."
The onetime Democratic secretary of state ascended to the state's top office when the Republican Mecham was impeached.
"I don't think it should have happened," Mofford says now, remembering Mecham as a "wonderful" if misunderstood man who treated her with dignity at the most difficult time in both their lives.
Some members of the state's political tribes remain less forgiving, though time and the former governor's long illness have softened views of the man denounced in 1986 as "an ethical pygmy" by fellow Mormon and onetime state Senate President Stan Turley, who took exception to Mecham's rough-and-tumble campaign style.
Even some leaders of the impeachment effort now say they harbored reservations about unseating Mecham but were powerless to stop it as his own combative nature and his unwillingness to make peace with political rivals fanned the flames. But one of his chief prosecutors in the 1988 Senate impeachment trial is resolute in his estimation that the historic act was necessary.
"He had gotten money for his inauguration, and the county attorney and he had agreed it was improper for him to use it personally," said Phoenix attorney Paul Eckstein, who made the case against Mecham with former Superior Court Judge William French.
Mecham nonetheless loaned his auto dealership $80,000 from the inaugural fund, forming the basis for one of two impeachment charges on which the Senate convicted him.
"I believed the impeachment was justified then, and I believe it was justified now," Eckstein said.
However, Eckstein added, "I don't know if it was the right political judgment, in retrospect," noting that some of the divisiveness in Arizona's political arena can be traced to the impeachment and the ideological divides it created.
Mecham was a short, wiry bulldog of a man with a direct gaze, a blunt style and deep suspicions about government and its elected elite. He spent most of his 40 years in politics speaking out against the political establishment, from utility barons and newspaper executives to government careerists and the business elite.
Said Fred Craft, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represented Mecham, "Evan, somehow, went to the beat of his own drum, and a lot of the time he was out of rhythm. He was a throwback to a different era."
But Craft said Mecham was best understood by recognizing his religious faith.
"He, in his own mind, was doing right," Craft said. "I know he felt he was being guided in the things that he was doing. He had a remarkable capacity to want to do right, and he had a reservoir of belief that (sustained) him."
Former Arizona Republic publisher Pat Murphy, a man with whom Mecham frequently clashed, was less charitable, believing Mecham to be driven by "a resentment for anything that had stature or influence greater than his."
When he was finally elected governor in 1986 after four previously unsuccessful tries and a failed stab at a U.S. Senate seat, Mecham set out with a vengeance to remake state government, and he intended to do it with or without the traditional political alliances on which most governors rely.
He thumbed his nose at lawmakers, attacked critics, appointed kindred spirits and friends and ignored well-meant advice, leaving few allies to ward off impeachment.
Ever after, he attributed his downfall to a conspiracy of the same powerful interests he'd long denounced.
"One of the reasons that I won the 1986 election to become the 17th governor of Arizona was my promise to take the power in government back from the Phoenix 40 and govern in behalf of all of the people," Mecham wrote in his 1998 self-published memoirs, Wrongful Impeachment.
"That promise made me a lot of powerful secret enemies . . . (and) I was to find out that it is control, not fairness, that is the bedrock foundation of government by powerbrokers."
Yet Mecham never publicly acknowledged the snowball effect that a series of misstatements, gaffes and controversial decisions and appointments had in triggering the turmoil, bad press and a statewide recall campaign that foreshadowed his unseating.
In the end, his unwillingness to compromise - or to heed even the advice of allies - cost him the job he'd spent years seeking. And while he ran for office twice without success after his impeachment, his last years were spent not in the automobile business, where he'd earned a good living, or in the political arena, but in writing about his life and seeking some measure of redemption.
He would probably be surprised by what some of his former rivals say about him now.
"I had to admire the man for relentlessly pursuing what he believed in," Los Angeles businessman Ed Buck said in late 2004.
Buck led a statewide recall campaign that would have gone on the ballot had Mecham not been impeached.
"Mecham believed with all his heart and soul in what he was doing," Buck said.
Mecham's health had been deteriorating since early 2004, when he was placed in nursing care at the Arizona State Veteran Home after suffering symptoms of dementia similar to those of Alzheimer's disease. His family, which reported on his condition from time to time, said his physical health long remained good because Mecham had been an avid recreational runner as an adult.
Born May 12, 1924, in the northeastern Utah town of Mountain Home, Mecham was a devout Mormon, one of six children and the youngest of five boys reared on a country farm. According to his brother Wayne, "It was a farm where we raised sheep for a few years and then dairy cows, and we raised crops. It's a pretty rough life."
At 18, with World War II under way, Mecham enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces and earned his pilot's wings at what was then Williams Field in Mesa. He eventually flew combat missions in P-38 and P-51 fighters, and was shot down over Germany near the end of the war in Europe.
"A fella in a German jet came up under him and got him from underneath," Wayne Mecham recalled. "He was in a spin - he could barely get out. He said he could see Mother and Dad going down with him in the plane. But he decided to give it one more try."
Evan Mecham recalled that moment in his 1998 memoirs: "Miraculously, I got out of the wreckage. My parachute worked, and I became a POW with no injuries more serious than a fractured knee. Being face to face with the Germans in that camp made me realize that our enemies were simply people like us, with many of the same needs and aspirations."
The war ended shortly thereafter. Mecham went home, married his high school sweetheart, Florence Lambert, and moved 18 months later to Arizona to attend Arizona State College as a business major. To make ends meet, he sold cars and partnered in a Van Buren Street car lot, he wrote.
"I found I liked selling cars," Mecham said in his memoirs. "Cars were solid things that people needed and wanted."
In 1950, with a semester left before graduation, Mecham bought a Pontiac franchise in Ajo with $6,500 he'd saved and a like amount borrowed from his mother, his memoirs show.
It was there that his interest in politics was cultivated.
Wayne Mecham recalled, "He sold more Pontiacs than you can imagine there. And it wasn't long (before) he was up here in Glendale."
After Evan Mecham was awarded a Glendale auto franchise in 1954, he began to pursue his political ambitions. In 1960, he won a close Arizona Senate race and served one term before his political ambitions led him to challenge longtime U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden for his seat.
Hayden won. Mecham attributed his loss in part to editorial opposition from Eugene Pulliam, then publisher of The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette. For the rest of his life, Mecham would blame the newspapers for his political woes as well as the problems facing Arizona. He even competed with Pulliam by publishing his own newspaper, the Evening American, from 1963 to 1973.
Mecham's gubernatorial win in 1986 was a shock to the political establishment, one few election handicappers could have predicted. First he knocked off longtime GOP lawmaker Burton Barr in a bitter primary in which Barr was accused of being in the pocket of downtown Phoenix business interests and having conflicts of interest involving freeway land purchases.
"Arizona is being bought and sold by insiders and special interests like you wouldn't believe," Mecham said then.
Mecham later bested Democrat Carolyn Warner and independent Bill Schulz in a three-way general election in which Warner and Schulz split the non-conservative vote. Mecham took office with just 40 percent of the popular vote.
Straight out of the gate, Mecham ran into fundraising troubles, prompting then-Attorney General Bob Corbin to launch an investigation only a few weeks into his governorship.
Then Mecham rescinded the state holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying his predecessor, Democrat Bruce Babbitt, had illegally enacted it and that the issue deserved a public vote.
The King holiday imbroglio prompted public protests and, eventually, a national convention boycott. By March 1987, a recall campaign began taking shape against Mecham.
Murphy, publisher of The Republic and The Gazette, publicly denounced Mecham's administration as a "brutish ideological juggernaut" in a Chamber of Commerce speech, deepening the governor's mistrust of the political establishment and the Pulliam newspapers.
The newspapers had to take a strong editorial position, given the growing furor over Mecham, Murphy says now.
Mecham added to his woes by refusing to guard his public comments. A succession of controversial statements sunk him deeper into a public-relations quagmire.
For example, he publicly defended a book that used the term "pickaninny" to describe African-American children, suggesting it was a term of endearment. And in defending himself against racism charges for rescinding the King holiday, Mecham told Arizona Trend magazine, "I've got Black friends. I employ Black people. I don't employ them because they're Black. I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job."
As successive faux pas deepened his PR woes, he accused his critics of conspiring to unseat him. At one point, he declared the late news columnist John Kolbe a "non-person" for his critical coverage, banning the conservative pundit from news conferences.
Republic editorial cartoonist Steve Benson's gibes so angered Mecham and his supporters that some local Mormons sought the intervention of Benson's grandfather, then the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The cartoonist eventually left the church, in part over differences he'd had with it over Mecham's coverage.
As battles over gubernatorial appointments continued to heat up, even some GOP lawmakers began to question Mecham's leadership. By the fall of 1987, Corbin was conducting a grand jury investigation of a Tempe developer's $350,000 loan to Mecham and the Arizona House was investigating Mecham's activities with an eye toward impeaching him.
In January 1988, Mecham and a brother, Willard, were indicted by a state grand jury on charges that they tried to conceal the developer's loan. Arizona's Republican congressmen called on Mecham to resign. At the same time, more than 300,000 petition signatures were submitted to the secretary of state seeking a recall election.
Mecham and his brother later were acquitted of the criminal charges, but the perfect storm of political woes led the House to impeach Evan Mecham on Feb. 5, 1988. After a month-long Senate trial, he was convicted April 4, 1988, on two impeachment counts, forcing him from office.
Carl Kunasek, then Arizona's Senate president, said he believed then that the House had acted too quickly. But once it acted, he was bound to plow on with a trial.
"I'm sorry for what happened . . . (but) there was nothing I could do to stop it," he said.
As a representative of an East Valley district full of Mecham fans, he too paid a price: "My career was scuttled."
Kunasek was in tune with Mecham's conservative philosophy, but "most of my problem with Governor Mecham was his style."
For example, he begged Mecham to ease into plans to cut taxes and scuttle social programs. He also thought Mecham was too inflexible in rescinding the King holiday.
"That really was not a good move," Kunasek said. "He should have turned it over to the attorney general and had him look at whether Babbitt had been authorized to create the holiday to begin with."
Still, when Kunasek was appointed to a federal commission after the impeachment, Mecham wrote a letter of endorsement for him.
"I thought that spoke highly of him," Kunasek said.
Mecham's post-impeachment election forays - for governor in 1990 and for U.S. Senate in 1992 - never lived up to his famous 1986 effort.
He spent most of his remaining energy and money trying to rebuild his reputation and personal fortune. He tried to launch a new newspaper, Arizona Newsday, but watched in 1992 as creditors auctioned off the newspaper's assets before a single edition saw ink.
Mecham "never smoked, he didn't drink, he didn't cuss, he was a multimillionaire . . . and it (impeachment) nearly cost him everything financially," Craft concluded.
What remained, said his brother Wayne, was "mostly pain," explaining:
"He felt he was dealt with very unjustly. He never got over it."
Mecham is survived by his wife, Florence of Gilbert; daughters Suzanne Haycock of Glendale, Christine Marsh of Peoria and Teresa Allen of Mesa; sons Dennis Evan Mecham of Glendale, Eric T. Mecham of Phoenix, Kyle Mecham of Mesa and Lance Mecham of Phoenix; brothers Wayne and Willard Mecham of Glendale and Arnold Mecham of Boyce, Idaho; sister Jean Squires of Mesa; 29 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, March 1, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at 4901 West Union Hills at 10:30 a.m.
Evan Mecham timeline
Evan Mecham, a millionaire automobile dealer who briefly served as Arizona's governor before being removed from office by impeachment conviction in 1988, died Thursday.
May 12, 1924 - Born in Mountain Home, Utah.
March 7, 1945 - As a member of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, shot down while flying a P-51 fighter mission over Nazi Germany.
Later in 1945 - Returns from prisoner-of-war camp, marries high-school sweetheart Florence Lambert.
1947 - Attends Arizona State College in Arizona.
1950 - Becomes Pontiac dealer in Ajo.
1954 - Is awarded Glendale Pontiac dealership.
1960 - Elected to the Arizona Senate, serving one two-year term.
1962 - Fails in bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
1964 - Loses in Republican gubernatorial primary.
1974 - Loses again in Republican gubernatorial primary.
1978 - Wins Republican gubernatorial primary, loses to Democrat Bruce Babbitt in general election.
1982 - Loses again in Republican gubernatorial primary.
Nov. 4, 1986 - Wins governorship in a three-way general election contest.
Jan. 12, 1987 - Rescinds predecessor's executive order creating a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, saying it was illegal, triggering lengthy state and national controversy.
Oct. 21, 1987 - State probe begins of his failure to report a $350,000 campaign loan.
Nov. 2, 1987 - Petition signatures seeking his recall are filed with Secretary of State's Office.
Jan. 8, 1988 - Indicted by state grand jury on charges stemming from failure to report loan.
Jan. 26, 1988 - Told to resign or face recall election due to certification of petition signatures. He declines, recall election scheduled for May 17, 1988.
Feb. 5, 1988 - Arizona House votes to impeach on a 46-14 vote.
April 5, 1988 - Arizona Senate convicts on two impeachment counts, removing him from office. Recall election canceled.
June 16, 1988 - He and a brother, Willard, acquitted of criminal charges stemming from campaign loan.
1990 - Loses again in Republican gubernatorial primary.
1992 - Fails in bid as an Independent for U.S. Sen. John McCain's seat.
1998 - Self-publishes political memoir, Wrongful Impeachment.
2004 - Placed in care of Arizona State Veteran Home for symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.
Feb. 21, 2008 - Died in Phoenix after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's.
Reactions to Mecham's death
"The Mecham era was very short and most Arizonans either don't remember it or don't want to remember."
Former state senator "Once he was elected in November 1986, he said he would rescind the Martin Luther King holiday. We called a meeting with him with him to change his mind. Mecham strongly and vehemently told us that he was going to rescind it and nothing was going to change his mind. I was shocked by his strong feelings against King. He told us King did not deserve a holiday. He does not carry the same stature as Abraham Lincoln and told us Black folks don't need a holiday. Black folks need jobs."
Warren H. Stewart, Sr.,Senior pastor at the First Institutional Baptist Church of Phoenix
"Obviously, former Governor Mecham and I had significant differences over time. He was a dedicated and devoted conservative. He served his state and his country, in the military and in politics. He was an important part of the Republican Party and all of us, and I extend our sympathy and best wishes to members of his family."
Sen. John McCain, during a press conference with political bloggers Friday.
Republican presidential nominee
(McCain called for Mecham's resignation in 1988. At the time, McCain acknowledged his office was getting 10-1 calls against his decision. "I think (Mecham) is damaging the Republican Party, but I happen to believe the Republican Party as an institution in the state can survive any one person," McCain said at the time. In 1992, Mecham unsuccessfully ran as an independent for McCain's Senate seat.
"He is a governor that never shied always from controversy . . . What people should remember is that he was exonerated in all the criminal cases that were brought against him. In the end, he was found not guilty."
Secretary of State
"He had a robust career in business, commerce and politics he was going to do what, in his heart, he believed was in the best interest of the people of Arizona."
"I had respect for the governor because he still was the governor, even though he may have committed a few blunders in his time. I recall him using the word for African American children 'pickaninny' and he felt there was nothing wrong with it. In his mind, it was a term of endearment. To others, it was a bad word. However, he did help me with my community of Hayden when they needed added resources for water treatment plant. He used discretionary funds to help us."
Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden, formally a state senator when Mecham was governor.
"You couldn't help but like the guy although he had a rocky relationship with the press corps. Looking back, he was a remarkable political character because everybody in the establishment wrote him off. But he persisted and defeated one of the most powerful political figures at the time for the GOP nomination for governor. He was a true believer, and I think that's why he attracted such a following."
Former Phoenix Gazette reporter who covered Mecham
"Before the race for governor, the late Burton Barr had a goal of becoming governor. Mecham ran for republican nomination and somehow won. Barr supporters probably didn't put much effort into the campaign because Mr. Barr was larger than life and in the political circles, he was very effective. He was in the military, had a business career. When he ran for the GOP nomination for governor, Evan Mecham beat him. That was a surprise. Having said that, when Mecham got into office, it started out controversial. Instead of bringing people together, it was turmoil upon turmoil. He will be remembered by the Martin Luther King debacle and misstatements laden with insensitive, intolerance and negativity that impacted a lot of people."
Martin Shultz, APS lobbyist
Compiled by Betty Reid and Jahna Berry.
Ex-Gov. Evan Mecham dies
Controversy over King holiday, charges of corruption culminated in his ouster
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.23.2008
PHOENIX Evan Mecham, the only Arizona governor to be impeached, tried and ejected from office, died late Thursday at the Arizona State Veteran Home after a lengthy illness.
The 83-year-old Mecham, the state's chief executive for less than 16 months, brought Arizona a great deal of national attention during his brief stint, much of it unwanted. Contemporaries in state government say he changed Arizona's political landscape, although they disagree on how.
"His tenure, his impeachment, his removal has scarred the body politic in ways that are still being felt," said Art Hamilton, the Democratic House minority leader at the time. He said the move by GOP lawmakers to oust him "energized what I call the extreme right wing of the Republican party." The backlash resulted in Republican leaders being turned out in the next primary. "It polarized the Republican Party in ways I think are still visible today," Hamilton said.
Jim Skelly, a Republican and then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has a different take.
"Philosophically, I probably agreed with over 95 percent of what he was pushing," said Skelly. But he said Mecham was such a divisive personality he set back the causes the two of them shared.
"It was kind of a black eye towards conservatism," Skelly said. "People were turned off, not by the philosophy but by the individual." It took years to undo that damage, he said.
Jane Hull, at the time the speaker of the House of Representatives who later became governor, agreed Mecham did the conservative movement no good because he focused on the wrong things.
"He focused on, rather than the big picture, the trivial picture," Hull said. Mecham was at the center of a controversy over a paid state holiday to honor slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and drew raised eyebrows with some of his comments, which were considered racially insensitive.
But it was two unrelated incidents that led legislators to vote for his removal: a charge of obstruction of justice for telling the director of the Department of Public Safety not to cooperate with an investigation of death threats involving two aides, and loaning $850,000 in inaugural ball receipts, which had been in a "protocol fund," to his own Pontiac dealership.
While the Senate voted to convict him on April 4, 1988, it did not invoke a clause that would have barred him from ever again seeking public office. That freed Mecham to make an unsuccessful independent bid for the U.S. Senate in 1992, losing to John McCain.
He spent many of his final years trying to convince others he was illegally ousted from office, even self-publishing a book "Wrongful Impeachment" and hawking copies himself at a booth he rented annually at the Arizona State Fair. His time in politics, which also included a brief stint as a state legislator in the 1960s, had broad effects on politics and the futures of those with whom he came in contact.
Rose Mofford, the Democrat secretary of state when Mecham was ousted, ended up finishing his term.
Fife Symington, then just a developer with political aspirations, gained prominence in 1987 as being the first major Republican to call for Mecham's resignation. At that time, Mecham faced a criminal grand-jury probe for failing to report a $350,000 loan from developers to his gubernatorial campaign.
Symington, who was elected governor in 1991, later had to swallow his words a week after he was indicted on criminal charges of lying to creditors about his assets to obtain a loan for one of his partnerships. He called the former governor and apologized. Joe Lane, a Willcox lawmaker who was House speaker during the impeachment hearings, had his political career cut short when Mecham supporters targeted his re-election bid. And Ed Buck became Arizona's first high-profile gay political activist by leading a recall against Mecham.
Mecham's election itself as governor in 1986 was a precursor of schisms that still exist within the Republican party.
House Majority Leader Burton Barr was the favorite of the state GOP organization for the party's gubernatorial nomination, but Mecham capitalized on that status, calling him a tool of special interests.
Mecham also benefited from a three-way general election against Democrat Carolyn Warner, who had been state school superintendent, and Democrat-turned-independent Bill Schulz, and thus needed only a plurality of the vote to get elected. Mecham considered one of his legacies putting an end to tax increases.
But it was one of his first actions that created headlines and became the hallmark for which his administration was known: repeal of an executive order issued by Bruce Babbitt, his predecessor, to create a state-paid King holiday.
Mecham said, correctly, state law prohibited the governor from making such a move, pointing to an opinion by Attorney General Bob Corbin. But it created a battle line from the outset of his tenure.
His defense of the use of the term "pickaninnies" in a book touched off marches on the Capitol and prompted groups to start canceling national conventions they had scheduled for Arizona.
The governor raised eyebrows again with his claim Corbin had microwaves trained on the ninth floor executive offices in an effort to overhear the governor's conversations. Mecham's claim of wrongful impeachment was fed by the fact a jury acquitted him of the criminal charges relating to the campaign loan a point legislators chose not to take up during his impeachment.
Some of those involved in the Mecham administration are still around and active in politics.
One of those is state Sen. Karen Johnson. The Mesa Republican, who has been in the Legislature since 1998, worked for Mecham during his term as governor and later. "I would hope that, in many ways, I was trying to carry on the legacy of Evan, who always wanted to do what was right and wanted government to be smaller and constitutional," she said.
And Ron Bellus, who was Mecham's press aide, now handles the television services for the Legislature.
While he acknowledged Mecham's style often got him in trouble, Bellus said some of the public's negative image of his former boss was due to a distorted image painted by the media.
"Ev made the comment to me one time, saying, 'You know, if I believed everything the press said, I'd hate me, too,' " Bellus recalled. Read more on the ex-governor at Kim Matas' Last Writes blog: go.azstarnet.com/lastwrites
Ex-Arizona Gov. Mecham Dies at 83 By BOB CHRISTIE 2 days ago
PHOENIX (AP) Evan Mecham, a firebrand conservative who served 15 months as Arizona's governor before a dramatic impeachment trial removed him from office in 1988, has died, his son said Friday. He was 83.
Mecham had been in deteriorating health with symptoms of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases for years and died Thursday of circumstances consistent with his age, son Dennis Mecham said.
The former governor, who always blamed his downfall on political enemies, had been at the Arizona State Veteran Home in Phoenix until recent weeks, when he went into hospice care, friends and family said.
"I just think Evan was a visionary, perhaps a little bit ahead of his time for some people and a great, great patriot and constitutionalist," said state Sen. Karen Johnson, who was Mecham's aide while he was governor.
"He had such a drive to return state's rights to Arizona and the country and it will be a great celebration at his funeral to honor such a great man."
Mecham, a millionaire automobile dealer who served in the state Senate for two years in the 1960s, ran for governor four times before he finally won a three-way race in November 1986 with 40 percent of the vote.
Some said Mecham, a Republican, brought out the worst in Arizonans racism, bigotry, intolerance. After taking office in January 1987, Mecham rescinded a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, saying its creation had been illegal.
In addition to canceling the holiday, Mecham said working women cause divorce and that he saw nothing wrong with calling black children "pickaninnies."
Others called him one of the last politicians gutsy enough to stand up for traditional family values and turn the state from liberal government interference. Mecham said his primary goal was to "return government to the people."
Mecham became the first U.S. governor impeached and removed from office in 59 years when, in April 1988, the state Senate convicted him of obstructing justice and misusing $80,000 in state funds allegedly funneled to his Pontiac dealership to keep it afloat. Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, became acting governor.
Mecham claimed the funds were the proceeds of his inaugural ball, which had been intended as campaign contributions. He insisted it was his money to spend as he saw fit, except for political purposes.
In a privately printed 1988 book titled "Impeachment: The Arizona Conspiracy," Mecham claimed the real reason he was impeached and convicted was "pure and simple raw political power exercised by those groups who wanted to remain in control."
"In the final analysis, my error was not in what I did with the (protocol) funds, but in thinking I was dealing with people who had honor, integrity and the best interest of the state at heart," Mecham wrote.
Mecham's demise as governor began in January 1988 when he was indicted by a state grand jury on six felony charges of fraud, perjury and filing false documents alleging he concealed a $350,000 campaign loan. Weeks later, more than 300,000 signatures were certified on a petition for a recall election and the vote was set for May 17.
But events in the Legislature moved so swiftly, the recall was never held. The House voted 46-14 on Feb. 5 to impeach Mecham and later approved charges in connection with the $350,000 loan, the $80,000 protocol fund loan and an alleged effort to stop the investigation of a death threat against a former Mecham lobbyist.
The Senate dismissed the campaign loan coverup charge, but on April 4, it voted 21-9 to convict Mecham on the death threat obstruction charge, removing him from office. The Senate also convicted him of the charge involving the $80,000 protocol fund.
Johnson, Mecham's aide, said Friday she thought the allegations against the governor were "all proven bogus."
"Even the legislators for the most part that took part in that regretted and felt terrible about what they had done or they should have," Johnson said.
Two months after his impeachment, Mecham was acquitted in criminal court of six felony counts of violating campaign finance laws by allegedly concealing a $350,000 loan.
Through it all, Mecham maintained he was the victim of a widespread conspiracy.
"I was in their way when I came in and followed through on my campaign promises," Mecham said in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press. "It didn't take me too long to find out how this state operated."
On the anniversary of his conviction in 1990, Mecham announced he would run for governor again his sixth and last time. After he lost in the GOP primary, Mecham briefly tried publishing his own newspaper and then concentrated on varied business interests.
Stan Turley, a fellow Mormon and one-time state Senate president, said Friday that he and Mecham were good friends, despite disagreements over the years, and that he opposed Mecham's impeachment, saying he was ethical and honorable.
"Ev was a hustler and he was a worker, and he really upheld what he believed in," he said. "His downfall I think was Ev felt a little bit anointed rather than elected. He felt like he could almost do no wrong."
Mecham, born in Duchesne, Utah, began selling cars to put himself through college. He attended Utah State University, Creighton University and Arizona State University, but did not get a degree.
A fighter pilot during World War II, he was shot down over Europe in March, 1945 and spent 22 days as a prisoner of war.
Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered flags at state buildings be flown at half-staff through Mecham's funeral.
Survivors include his wife, Florence, and seven children. Funeral plans were incomplete Friday.
Associated Press Writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed to this story.
Former AZ Governor Ev Mecham Dies
Posted: Feb 22, 2008 12:44 PM MST
KOLD News 13 News Anchor Mindy Blake
Former Arizona Governor Evan Mecham has died at the age of 83.
The millionaire car dealer briefly served as Arizona's governor before being removed from office by impeachment conviction in 1988.
Mecham passed away Thursday.
State Senator Karen Johnson was Mecham 's aide while he was governor, and she said Friday that he died after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's Disease.
Mecham , elected to the Arizona Senate in 1960 for a two-year term, ran for governor four times before he finally won a three-way race in November 1986.
The republican was impeached 17 months later by an Arizona house vote, and was removed from office when the Arizona Senate convicted him of misusing $80,000 in state funds and obstructing justice.
Former AZ Governor Evan Mecham Dies Friday February 22, 2008
Evan Mecham, known also as Ev Mecham, was the 19th Governor of Arizona. He served as Governor from January 6, 1987 to April 4, 1988. Although it was a short time, it was a turbulent time, and those of is who lived here then recall a confusing and embarrassing period for the state. Mecham was impeached for several indiscretions, including misuse of government funds when he made his auto dealership a loan using money from the inauguration fund.
Aside from that impeachment process, Evan Mecham was prone to making unpopular statements about women and minorities. Arizona claimed some dubious fame nationwide when he referred to African Americans as pickaninnies, although he claimed it was never intended to be an ethnic slur. He is credited with the repeal of the paid Martin Luther King Holiday in Arizona previously decreed by Governor Bruce Babbitt, his predecessor. The backlash of that action proved detrimental to tourism and the general image of the State of Arizona, as more than 160 conventions canceled their plans to meet here.
Evan Mecham tried, but wasn't ever again successful as a political candidate in Arizona. His own Republican Party never really supported him, as many saw his mode of operation to be arrogant and crude. In 1992 he campaigned against John McCain for the U.S. Senate seat, and received only about 10% of the vote. Although Ev Mecham's impeachment was certainly not the only scandal endured by Arizonans in the past few decades, he is not remembered fondly for his accomplishments here. You can read more about Evan Mecham, including some quotes attributed to him, in today's news.
Evan Mecham had been ill for several years, and suffered from dementia related to Alzheimer's Disease. He was 83 years old at the time of his passing.
Former Ariz. governor Mecham dies
PHOENIX Evan Mecham, a millionaire automobile dealer who briefly served as Arizona's governor before being removed from office by impeachment conviction in 1988, has died of Alzheimer's disease, according to former aide Karen Johnson, now an Arizona state senator.
The death of Mecham, 83, closes a chapter of Arizona history that many members of the state's political establishment would just as soon forget.
That period during the late 1980s was rife with bitter political infighting, public name-calling, blaring headlines, citizen outrage and campaign repercussions that lasted well into the 1990s as Mecham and his supporters continued to run against, and sometimes unseat, political enemies.
His tenure included his rescinding of the state's Martin Luther King Day holiday, which he claimed had been illegally enacted. The King holiday imbroglio prompted public protests and, eventually, a national convention boycott. By March 1987, a recall campaign began taking shape against Mecham.
"It was sad for many of us," said former governor Rose Mofford, who was the Democratic secretary of state at the time and ascended to the state's top office when the Republican Mecham was impeached.
"I don't think it should have happened," Mofford says now, remembering Mecham as a "wonderful" if misunderstood man who treated her with dignity at the most difficult time in both their lives.
Mecham was finally elected governor in 1986 after four previously unsuccessful tries and a failed stab at a U.S. Senate seat. He set out with a vengeance to remake state government, and he intended to do it with or without the traditional political alliances on which most governors rely.
He thumbed his nose at lawmakers, attacked critics, appointed kindred spirits and friends and ignored well-meant advice, leaving few allies to ward off impeachment.
Ever after, he attributed his downfall to a conspiracy of the same powerful interests he'd long denounced. Mecham never publicly acknowledged the snowball effect that a series of misstatements, gaffes and controversial decisions and appointments had in triggering the turmoil.
"I had to admire the man for relentlessly pursuing what he believed in," Los Angeles businessman Ed Buck said in late 2004. Buck led a statewide recall campaign that would have gone on the ballot had Mecham not been impeached.
Mecham's health had been deteriorating since early 2004, when he was placed in nursing care at the Arizona State Veteran Home.
Born May 12, 1924, in the northeastern Utah town of Mountain Home, Mecham was a devout Mormon, one of six children and the youngest of five boys reared on a country farm. At 18, with World War II underway, Mecham enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He eventually flew combat missions in P-38 and P-51 fighters, and was shot down over Germany near the end of the war in Europe.
The war ended shortly thereafter. Mecham went home and married his high school sweetheart, Florence Lambert. To make ends meet, he sold cars.
After Mecham was awarded a Glendale auto franchise in 1954, he began to pursue his political ambitions. In 1960, he won a close Arizona Senate race and served one term before he challenged longtime U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden for his seat.
Hayden won. Mecham attributed his loss in part to editorial opposition from Eugene Pulliam, then publisher of The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette. For the rest of his life, Mecham would blame the newspapers for his political woes as well as the problems facing Arizona.
Mecham's gubernatorial win in 1986 was a shock to the political establishment, one few election handicappers could have predicted. Mecham took office with just 40% of the popular vote.
Straight out of the gate, Mecham ran into fundraising troubles, prompting then-Attorney General Bob Corbin to launch an investigation only a few weeks into his governorship.
After the King Day fiasco, a succession of controversial statements sunk him deeper into a public-relations quagmire. For example, he publicly defended a book that used the term "pickaninny" to describe African-American children, suggesting it was a term of endearment.
Arizona Republic editorial cartoonist Steve Benson's gibes so angered Mecham and his supporters that some local Mormons sought the intervention of Benson's grandfather, then the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The cartoonist eventually left the church, in part over differences he'd had with it over Mecham's coverage.
The perfect storm of political woes led the House to impeach Evan Mecham on Feb. 5, 1988. After a month-long Senate trial, he was convicted April 4, 1988, on two impeachment counts, forcing him from office.
Mecham's post-impeachment election forays for governor in 1990 and for U.S. Senate in 1992 never lived up to his famous 1986 effort.
He spent most of his remaining energy and money trying to rebuild his reputation and personal fortune.