Arizona governor says indictment won’t force resignation

January 9, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham’s indictment on fraud and perjury charges for failing to report a $350,000 campaign loan has renewed calls for his resignation from state lawmakers in both parties, but Mecham vows to stay on.

A state grand jury Friday charged Mecham, 63, with six felonies, including perjury, fraud and filing a false campaign contribution report, which carry a maximum prison term of almost 23 years. His brother and campaign treasurer, Willard, was indicted on three similar counts.

A small fire was set Friday night in a filing cabinet in the law office of William French, special counsel the Arizona House hired to investigate whether Mecham should be impeached, fire department spokesman Steve Jensen said.

“It is arson. It definitely is arson,” Jensen said. There was no immediate word on whether authorities had any suspects.

French said sprinklers extinguished the fire and his paperwork on Mecham was not affected, according to Jensen.

The Mecham brothers face arraignment in Superior Court on Jan. 22, Attorney General Bob Corbin said. If convicted, the Republican governor will be automatically removed from office.

Mecham, who has consistently denied wrongdoing, did not comment to reporters as he left the Capitol Friday evening.

His press secretary, Ken Smith, said the governor was not surprised at the indictment and felt “a sense of relief because at least this formalizes some of this. … There’s no longer jousting at windmills.”

Mecham will not resign and plans to deliver his State of the State address to the opening of the Legislature as planned on Monday, Smith said.

Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature, have been divided over whether Mecham should resign. Even some of Mecham’s fellow conservatives have expressed fear that his controversial presence could give Democrats, who have not won either chamber since 1974, a victory in November.

“I personally believe the best thing the governor could do for the state of Arizona is resign,” Rep. Jim Hartdegen, a Republican, said after the indictment Friday. Hartdegen has called for Mecham’s resignation previously, but this time he added gravely, “I feel very cold at this point.”

Rep. Bobby Raymond, a Democrat, said that for Mecham to consider resigning would be the “statesmanlike thing to do.”

House Minority Leader Art Hamilton said Mecham “may very well have reached a point where he simply finds himself unable to govern” because of the time it will take to defend himself.

The Mechams are accused of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan in November 1986 by Tempe developer Barry Wolfson. The loan made up about one-third of the campaign warchest when Mecham won the governorship for the first time in five tries.

The governor has said the failure to report the loan was an “honest mistake” made by Willard Mecham. The governor amended his personal and campaign financial documents in November when media reports disclosed the loan.

The governor and his brother were charged with perjury, fraud and false filing for omitting the loan from a campaign-finance disclosure report. Signing a false financial-disclosure statement constitutes perjury, officials said.

Mecham also was charged with fraud and two counts of perjury for omitting the loan from two personal-finance disclosure statements.

State House Speaker Joe Lane said the indictment will have no effect on consideration of whether to impeach Mecham in connection with the loan.

If Mecham resigned or were removed from office he would be replaced by Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat. If he were forced to run in a recall, he would have to face all comers in a non-partisan election.

A campaign announced before Mecham took office on Jan. 5, 1987, has gathered well over the 216,746 petition signatures needed to force a recall vote, according to county recorders.

Ed Buck, founder of the Mecham Recall Committee, said Mecham should step down because “Arizona certainly deserves better than this. It’s time for Mecham to resign, way past time for him to resign.”

Mecham became embroiled in controversy during his first month in office when he canceled a Martin Luther King holiday for state workers on grounds it was illegally created. Later, he got in trouble for defending the use of the word “pickaninny,” and he also has angered women, Jews and homosexuals with various remarks.

A state grand jury had been looking into the loan as well as an alleged death threat by a state official against a former Mecham aide who was a key grand jury witness. Corbin would not say Friday whether further indictments were expected.