Jesse Jackson unable to sway Mecham

Evan Mecham and Jesse Jackson, seated together at a press conference, disagree on a state King holiday.

Evan Mecham and Jesse Jackson, seated together at a press conference, disagree on a state King holiday.

King Day talks net no change

By Rosemary Schabert Case
Mesa Tribune

PHOENIX — After calling earlier for a work stoppage Monday to honor the Rev. Martin‘ Luther King Jr., the Rev. Jesse Jackson left Gov. Evan Mecham’s office disappointed Tuesday in his effort to win support for the holiday.

On Monday, the Republican governor rescinded a holiday declared by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt.

In a speech Monday night while visiting Tucson, Jackson called on Arizonans to stay home from work and school Monday to protest Mecham’s move to do away with the state holiday.

Under federal law, the holiday falls on the third Monday in January, although King’s birthday is Thursday.

After meeting with Mecham Tuesday, the former Democratic presidential candidate called their discussions “very direct.” He said he tried to change Mecham’s mind about the holiday.

“Dr. King symbolizes and epitomizes love and peace and justice in this country and in the world,” Jackson said. “There’s already a federal holiday. It’s observed in most states around the country.‘  ”

“The perception of its recision is as an attack upon King’s philosophy and his approach,  not based upon a legal technicality of the situation.”

Jackson was referring to Mecham’s argument that Babbitt didn’t have the power to set up the holiday by executive order. That argument was bolstered by a ruling from state Attorney General Bob Corbin, a Republican.

Mecham said he would continue to work for economic equality for blacks in Arizona, although he added that the state really didn’t have any problems.

“Blacks have been moved into good neighborhoods as long as they have the finances to do it,” Mecham said.

The governor also said King was not solely responsible for progress in civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s.

But Jackson said a King holiday was not a “blacks-only” issue, and that King’s civil rights work “made more room in America” for many people.

Jackson said he opposes Mecham’s suggestion that state lawmakers send the King Day issue to the 1988 ballot. He said a referendum would focus on “Dr. King’s philosophy and approach” rather than the legal question of Babbitt’s executive order.

Instead, Jackson called on state lawmakers to pass a bill setting up the holiday. Last year, the bill failed to pass in the House by a single vote.

Although Jackson said Mecham’s act had “contributed to polarization” among Arizonans, he also had a good word for Mecham.

“I’m delighted that the governor — a man in his position — had the courage and integrity to allow me to discuss the subject with him face-to-face,” Jackson said. “Certainly dialogue is preferable over confrontation.

Jackson also ribbed Mecham lightly about the nationwide publicity the recision has stirred, calling Mecham “a national figure.” The pair then laughed and shook hands.

After the press conference, Mecham and Jackson flew to Window Rock together to attend the inauguration of Peter MacDonald, chairman of the Navajo nation.

On Monday, Mecham will debate the King issue with black activist Julian Bond on the nightly edition of PBS’ MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. The program will be broadcast locally on KAET-TV, Channel 8.