Governor in trouble again, this time for remark about Japanese

January 13, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — A day after admitting his style has gotten him into trouble, Gov. Evan Mecham is in hot water again — this time for saying a group of Japanese “got round eyes” while talking about their favorite sport.

The remark sparked immediate criticism of the Republican governor, who in the past has angered blacks, Jews, homosexuals and women.

“You’d almost think a person would have to work awfully hard to offend that many people with this regularity,” said House Minority Leader Art Hamilton, a Democrat. “I find no humor in it.”

Mecham, who faces a recall campaign and an indictment, told the Phoenix Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that during a trip to the Far East last fall, he gave a golf club to the head of a major Japanese bank.

“And Japanese like to play golf,” Mecham said. “And their eyes really light up when you say we’ve got over 200 golf courses in Arizona.

“My goodness, golf courses. Suddenly they got round eyes,” Mecham said. As some in the crowd began to titter, the governor added, “I hope that wasn’t anything out of line.”

On Monday, Mecham admitted in his State of the State address to having made mistakes during his first year in office. In what many viewed as a conciliatory speech, he said he realized that “style is sometimes as important as substance. How things are said is sometimes as important as what is said.”

Gary Tadano, president of the Arizona chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, said Mecham should apologize. Tadano said Mecham probably meant his remark as a joke, but ethnic slurs always start out as a joke and his group took offense.

Jing-Shen Tao, acting head of the Oriental studies department at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said he was offended but did not consider it a major gaffe.

“I don’t think there’s a big deal because I’ve heard a lot of people making fun of Oriental features. I think it’s something to pass by,” he said.

Tom Kadomoto, honorary Japanese consul general in Phoenix, said he did not want to comment on Mecham’s remark. “I don’t know that he had any malicious intent,” he said.

But Hamilton said, “I find the idea of disparaging comments about other folks because of their race, color, creed or in this case, in his judgment, the shape of their eyes, to be an affront to right-thinking folks.”

In the past, the governor has said working women cause divorce, homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle, and defended use of the word “pickaninny” in textbooks. He also canceled a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King for state workers.

In December, Mecham angered Jews by defending an earlier statement that the United States is a “great Christian nation.”

“The next thing we’re going to hear is ‘some of my best friends are Japanese,”‘ said Rep. Cindy Resnick, a Democrat.

Mecham press secretary Ken Smith declined to elaborate on what the governor meant about the Japanese, saying he didn’t hear that part of Mecham’s speech. The governor refused to comment to reporters after his address.

Mecham also renewed his attacks on Attorney General Bob Corbin and the media.

He accused the attorney general of timing last Friday’s indictment on six felony charges for just before the governor’s State of the State address to the Legislature.

Mecham said his indictment on fraud, perjury and false filing charges for failing to report a $350,000 campaign loan in a timely fashion was “vindictive political persecution” by Corbin’s office.

Corbin, also a Republican, said, “We handled it like any other investigation. … That’s the mentality he has.”

Mecham also said the news media is “an entertainment network. Essentially giving you the news is the last thing that’s in their mind. They want to make controversy.”

On Friday, the House is scheduled to receive a report from its special counsel on whether Mecham should be impeached for his handling of the campaign loan.