Letter to Senator DeConcini about Keating Five hearings

Nov. 19, 1990

Senator Dennis DeConcini
United States Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Senator DeConcini:

I watched your testimony on C-SPAN with a combination of sympathy and dread. Frankly, I don’t believe you did anything illegal. However, I see enough signs that all the exculpatory evidence you can muster may not be enough to counter an atmosphere of character assassination and a media feeding frenzy.

This letter is prompted by a scene on television shortly after the day’s testimony. In the hall outside the hearing room, the C-SPAN camera focused on a group of reporters from Arizona. Although I have never been in that particular hall, it was a very familiar picture. This scene reminded me of the proceedings to impeach Evan Mecham.

I was Governor Mecham’s press secretary during the impeachment proceedings. (I feel compelled to explain that I did not know Evan Mecham before August 1987 and have not spoken with him since he left office.) My original purpose in moving from California to Arizona was to assist this state in its bid for the Superconducting Super Collider. Rather than working on the SSC, I soon became involved in one of the worst political events in this nation’s recent history. I am still a bit stunned at the prevailing stupidity which held that the immediate removal of Mecham was more important than the long-term benefits of the SSC.

Of course, Mecham said and did a number of foolish things. It was painful and embarrassing to watch at times. But being an embarrassment and a public fool are not yet felonies in Arizona, nor should they have been impeachable offenses.

There is no doubt in my mind that Evan Mecham was railroaded out of office by a combination of political enemies and an imflammatory press. Arizona journalists (several of whom have since moved to Washington and are now covering the Senate hearings) acted as conduits for anonymously leaked materials intended to further damage Mecham’s public image. I see many of the same elements in the current trial of the “Keating Five.”

Republicans here smell blood and they are beginning to talk privately about Symington’s choice to replace you. Democrats surrounding Goddard also may be having similar discussions, but I have no first hand knowledge of this. This stinks.

Our political system is on trial now, as it was during the Mecham impeachment. There was little non-partisan support for Mecham’s constitutional rights three years ago. There was one editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal who believed Mecham was treated unfairly. The ACLU filed an amicus brief, and Representatives Polly Rosenbaum and John Kromko were critical of the impeachment hysteria. There is even more cowardice today on the part of your political colleagues who refuse to come forward for fear of being painted by the same broad brush. These are sad times.

Sincerely,

Kenneth V. Smith