ABC’s Koppel grills Mecham

Governor tries to stress ‘positive’

By Adrianne Flynn
Mesa Tribune

Gov. Evan Mecham, speaking on ABC television’s Nightline program Friday night, evaded questions on homosexuals and blamed Phoenix newspapers for the recall effort mounted against him.

Mecham sought to discuss the “positive” things his administration has accomplished, but the shqw’s host, Ted Koppel, wanted to talk about the reasons Arizona’s governor is facing a recall movement backed by an unprecedented number of petition signatures.

Koppel quoted Mecham’s statements on CBS’ 60 Minutes show where the governor said: “Anybody’s who’s breaking the law shouldn’t have a job in government. It’s up to me to uphold the law. A homosexual act is against the law.”

Koppel asked Mecham for some “consistency” in treatment because H. Lee Watkins, his deputy director of the Department of Administration, was convicted at age 19 of robbery in El Centro, Calif. He served 14 months in federal prisons.

Mecham said he did not appoint Watkins; DOA Director Max Hawkins did.

However, Mecham had earlier tapped Watkins to lead his war on drugs, but Watkins resigned when a bankruptcy and reprimand from his own Republican Party on unethical campaign practices was revealed.

Koppel later asked Mecham that if he had the names of gays in state posts, as he had requested on a Valley radio program, would he fire them. Mecham responded, “Would you allow me just to respond in a positive way.”

“You’re not here to talk about your accomplishments in office,” Koppel responded. “You’re here because you’ve become a national figure of considerable interest.”

Mecham frequently has. criticized his treatment in both print and broadcast media, but his comments Friday night were his strongest yet.

“Mr. Koppel,” Mecham aaid, “if the news media talked anywhere near as much about my accomplishments as they do quoting those who would like to tear me down, we wouldn’t have a national figure either. That’s what’s the embarrassment (to the state).”

Koppel earlier had told Mecham that no one was accusing him of being a “homicidal maniac,” only of being an embarrassment. He added, “The newspapers don’t go around trying to tear down the governors of all 50 states.”

Koppel cited from a poll to be published this morning by Phoenix Newspapers Inc. that shows 58 percent of Arizonans want Mecham to resign, while 36 percent say he shouldn’t; that 47 percent of them believe Mecham has not been truthful, while 39 percent say he has been; and 63 percent weren’t satisfied with his answers regarding a $350,000 campaign loan now under, investigation by the state grand jury, and just 21 percent were.

Mecham discussed the details of the loan on KTVK Channel 3 here Monday night. During the interview he accused anchorman Cameron Harper of going beyond the bounds of an agreement that limited the show to a discussion of the loan.

At the beginning of Nightline, Koppel said‘ he wanted to put on the record that there was no understanding between Mecham and ABC that would limit questioning.

“You’re asking the questions and I’m giving the answers,” Mecham said.

Under tight security, Mecham arrived at the KTVK studios 40 minutes before the broadcast. Department of Public Safety officers were stationed on sidewalks near the station and along the final 1-1/2 blocks of the route leading to it.

The governor was whisked immediately through the employees’ entrance to the station, and reporters were not allowed to ask Mecham questions before the program.

The governor and two security guards were in the conference room during the broadcast. Reporters watched the program on a large-screen television monitor that received it live, one hour before rebroadcast on KTVK.

Afterward, Mecham remained in the studio for three minutes before walking past a dozen reporters outside the studio. Mecham smiled, but said nothing.

At one point, reporters pressed against the governor, and Mecham nearly lost his footing as he approached his car to leave.

The governors press secretary, Ken Smith, said he felt Mecham fared well, but he wished the 34-minute program could have been longer.

Mecham’s attorney, Murray Miller, also said he felt Mecham did well, but he declined to answer questions on whether the program might help or hurt Mecham in Arizona.

After the governor had left, reporters got into a brief shouting match with Smith. He remained momentarily and answered one question.

“Why didn’t the governor answer Ted Koppel’s questions?” asked a reporter.

“He answered everything,” Smith replied. “He answered absolutely everything.”

For Mecham, it was the second live television interview this week. On Monday night, the governor was interviewed by Harper in a broadcast that almost degenerated into a shouting match toward the end.

Dennis O’Brien, KTVK’s asssistant news director, said reaction to Harper’s confrontation with Mecham has been running about 50 percent for the governor and 50 percent against him.

O’Brien described the reaction as a “strange crossover,” with many Mecham supporters complaining the governor was too sharp with Harper, and Mecham critics saying the same about Harper.

Friday night’s program was generally considered more tame than Monday’s, when Mecham became defensive and angry as Harper drifted from the original subject and tried to ask Mecham about the Watkins’ case.

The governor challenged Harper, saying they had agreed beforehand to talk only about the
$350,000 loan. Harper disagreed and asked the same question again.