Embattled Governor Conciliatory in State of State Address

January 12, 1988

By RON HARRIS
Los Angeles Times

PHOENIX — Embattled Gov. Evan Mecham, his Administration crumbling around him amid criminal charges, possible impeachment and almost certain recall, admitted to the state Legislature on Monday that he had made mistakes during his first year, but stopped short of apologizing for his actions.

“If I had to do it over, I would have realized earlier that style is sometimes as important as substance,” Mecham said in a conciliatory state of the state address. “How things are said is sometimes as important as what is said.”

Mecham’s tenure has been mired in controversy, beginning just two weeks into his term, when he rescinded a paid state holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and continuing with remarks that offended working women, Jews and Latinos, among others.

Loan Concealment Alleged

With his supporters shouting and hooting in the gallery, Mecham, indicted last week for allegedly concealing a $350,000 campaign contribution and facing an impeachment report Friday, assured lawmakers that he could still govern effectively.

“My present difficulties will not interfere in any way with the operation of the executive branch,” he said.

State lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature greeted his remarks coolly, not once interrupting Mecham’s speech with applause.

“He did admit he had made some mistakes,” said House Speaker Joe Lane (R-Wilcox). “That’s the first time he’d done that. But he didn’t do a lot of apologizing.”

“He’s admitting wrong in the way he has done things but not in what he’s done,” Senate Majority Leader Robert Usdane (R-Scottsdale) said. “Frankly, I don’t think that the governor thinks he’s done anything wrong.”

House Whip Jane Hull (R-Phoenix), formerly a strong Mecham supporter who in November called for his resignation, said: “I don’t think he has ever had the time to think about the problems and programs of government” because of the controversy surrounding his term.

Effectiveness Criticized

And Senate Minority Leader Alan Stephens (D-Phoenix) said Mecham’s severely diminished effectiveness will invite chaos.

“The governor has a role to play and the Legislature has a role to play,” Stephens said. “Without an effective governor, the legislator is hard-pressed to do both the legislative and the executive jobs.”

Usdane and Stephens said one of the best things to come out of the speech was what the governor did not say.

“That applause at the end was applause of relief that he didn’t say anything else to cause a great deal of furor,” Usdane said.

“Some of us are very relieved that he didn’t try to defend his mistakes and that he didn’t try to give his defenses for the charges against him,” Stephens said.

The governor and his brother and campaign treasurer, Willard Mecham, were indicted Friday on charges of perjury, fraud and false filing for allegedly failing to report a $350,000 campaign loan from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson.

The governor faces six felony charges and his brother three.

More Allegations Possible

The state grand jury that indicted the governor is taking a few weeks off, but Atty. Gen. Bob Corbin said he plans to pursue other allegations involving his fellow Republican when it reconvenes.

Meanwhile, a state poll released by the state’s leading newspaper and a Phoenix television station said 65% of Arizona residents think that the governor should resign. The poll was taken a day after the indictment was handed down. The poll also found that 56% of the respondents think that the governor should be recalled, and 34% do not.

Numerous Republicans and Democratic lawmakers have urged Mecham to resign, including state political patriarch and former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater. Mecham has refused, saying in a press conference after his indictment: “Resignation is not an option. I am completely clean.”

Looming before the House is a report due Friday from special counsel William French as to whether impeachment proceedings are warranted. French’s investigation, which began in late October, also centers around disclosure of the loan from Wolfson.

On Monday, the state recorder’s office is scheduled to announce whether the governor will face a recall election, probably in mid-May.

County recorders around the state have been checking nearly 400,000 signatures on petitions seeking a recall election. Recorders have said their checks indicate that there will be more than the 216,746 valid signatures required for a new election.