Former Mecham aide thought alleged death threat would ‘go away’

March 12, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — A former top aide to Gov. Evan Mecham acknowledged that he told the governor an alleged death threat by a state official was a “frivolous matter” Mecham should forget about.

Max Hawkins, former head of the Department of Administration, testified Friday at the Republican governor’s impeachment trial that he thought the alleged threat was “a matter that would probably go away by itself.”

Mecham is accused of trying to thwart the attorney general’s investigation of the threat, allegedly made against a witness testifying before a state grand jury that was investigating the governor’s campaign finances.

Earlier Friday, another former state official, Sam Steiger, testified the governor believed some of his decisions were “divinely inspired.”

Steiger had been asked by Sen. John Mawhinney whether Mecham, a devout Mormon, “could and would make decisions on specific pieces of legislation through, he believed, some divine inspiration.”

Asked by a reporter about Steiger’s testimony, Mecham said only, “Sam, he’s a little off the wall in some of his comments, too.”

Mormon doctrine holds that faithful Christians may receive guidance from God regarding worldly endeavors, including their occupations.

The day marked the end of the second week of Mecham’s Senate trial. In addition to the death threat allegation, he is accused of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

Former state prison construction chief Lee Watkins is accused of threatening the life of former top Mecham aide Donna Carlson in a conversation with Peggy Griffith, head of the Governor’s Office of Women’s Services.

Hawkins testified that he spoke on Nov. 13 with Watkins and Mrs. Griffith and that he did not believe an actual death threat was made.

Instead, Hawkins said he felt that Watkins had said that Ms. Carlson should keep her mouth shut and “there are a lot of people out there who are excitable and she could have harm come to her.”

Hawkins said that when he told Watkins that Mrs. Griffith had reported the matter to others, “he laughed and thought that it was absurd” that she was telling anyone about it.

Hawkins said he met with Mecham later that day and told the governor that he had found “that it was a little spat, a frivolous matter” and that Mecham should forget about it.

Watkins has denied threatening Ms. Carlson’s life. He is scheduled to return to the stand Monday. Mecham could testify late next week, said defense lawyer Fred Craft.

Steiger blamed many of Mecham’s troubles on Attorney General Bob Corbin, a Republican.

Steiger said Mecham resented Corbin because the governor took the political heat for canceling a Martin Luther King holiday for state workers when it was Corbin who first said the holiday was illegally created through an executive proclamation by Mecham’s predecessor, Bruce Babbitt.

Steiger faces an extortion charge brought by Corbin’s office on an unrelated matter.

Corbin, contacted for comment on Steiger’s testimony, said, “Just remember the position he is in with regard to our office and you can draw your own conclusions.”

Mecham also faces a May 17 recall election and an April 21 criminal trial on charges of concealing the $350,000 loan.

He is the first U.S. governor impeached in six decades and the first ever in Arizona. A two-thirds vote of the 30-member Senate is required to convict him, and lawmakers also could bar him from holding any future public office.