Governor refuses to answer attorneys’ questions

February 1, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham denied wrongdoing Monday before a House panel considering his possible impeachment, and won a standoff after he refused to answer questions from House attorneys.

The meeting of the House select committee abruptly adjourned when the Republican governor insisted he would only answer questions from House members, not their attorneys. Hours later, House members, meeting in separate party caucuses, agreed to let Mecham testify under those terms on Wednesday.

A week earlier, the governor had promised “no conditions” on his testimony.

“Governor, it’s obvious that you feel that you should not comply with the rules that every other witness has complied with,” House select Committee Chairman Jim Skelly said at the hearing.

“I am in this case the accused, not just another witness,” Mecham said.

Also Monday, Mecham, in office just barely over a year, was ordered to face a recall election on May 17. He also faces a March 9 trial on criminal charges accusing him of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan.

Skelly said he wanted to subpoena Mecham but he was outvoted by his fellow Republicans, who form a majority in the House. Skelly warned that even though House lawyers will work with committee members on a list of questions, the governor may face softer questioning because lawmakers will not be as prepared as their attorneys would have been.

Mecham spokesman Ken Smith said, “He won these rounds on points.” He added that the governor on Wednesday will answer any question from any House member.

Lane has said the House will decide on whether to impeach Mecham soon after he testifies. If the governor is impeached, Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, would take over as acting governor while Mecham faced trial in the Senate.

Earlier Monday, the governor made an opening statement to the House panel in which he denied wrongdoing in his failure to report a $350,000 campaign loan and an $80,000 loan from the governor’s protocol fund to his auto dealership.

The governor did not directly address a third allegation that he tried to thwart a state investigation of an alleged death threat, instead saying he had not been fully informed about the alleged threat

“Integrity is the No. 1 issue,” the governor said in his opening statement, claiming that it was “disgraceful” that those who have investigated him were trying to “make something of nothing.”

“There is nothing sinister; there is nothing evil” about the failure to separately report the $350,000 loan, Mecham said.

Mecham said that answering questions from House special counsel William French and Democratic lawmakers’ attorney would be a violation of his constitutional rights unless he could question them in return.

“I came to answer the questions of the members of the House,” Mecham said. “I am not ready … to have a cross-examination by prosecuting attorneys.”

Skelly told reporters, “We certainly do want to have him testify because his statement this morning said absolutely nothing. … Obviously there is a great deal of evidence that is available and he did not refute the evidence.”

But committee member Rep. Mark Killian, a Republican, said Skelly and Lane’s position was “a bunch of baloney” because the governor had offered to answer queries from lawmakers.

In his opening statement, Mecham insisted he did not hide the $350,000 campaign loan from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson, which was lumped with two other loans and listed on his financial disclosure statement as a $465,000 contribution from Mecham.

Mecham testified that a $350,000 receipt he signed, which French said was used to disguise the Wolfson loan, was written to keep bookkeeping records complete.

Handwritten notes by campaign finance worker Vern Gasser, which French said showed the loan was to be concealed, are “worthless in a court of law,” Mecham said.

The state’s campaign finance disclosure law is vague, Mecham said, adding that Wolfson’s name appeared elsewhere on the financial reports in connection with a $15,000 contribution he made.

“We ask, where’s the secrecy?” the governor said.

Regarding the $80,000 loan to Mecham Pontiac from the governor’s protocol fund, Mecham disputed French’s contention that the protocol fund was state money. The loan to the auto dealership was “a political mistake” but not improper, he said.

Mecham repeated his contention that he was not fully informed of an alleged death threat by a state official against a grand jury witness in connection with the $350,000 loan.

However, he did not address an allegation that he ordered Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead not to cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation of the alleged threat.