January 18, 1988
By LARRY LOPEZ
PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham faces the start of impeachment hearings this week, as well as arraignment on criminal charges and presentation of recall petitions, the state House speaker said.
Speaker Joe Lane said Sunday he planned to name a special panel this week to hear evidence against the Republican governor, who has been accused by a grand jury and a House special counsel of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan from a developer.
The timing of the impeachment hearings has presented a political dilemma to Lane and other Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature. Mecham supporters have cautioned against haste, noting that an impeachment would turn the governorship over, at least temporarily, to a Democrat even before Mecham could be tried by the state Senate.
Democrats, however, on Sunday also urged that the House not rush its examination of the governor’s possible wrongdoing.
House Minority Leader Art Hamilton said Democrats need time to hire a lawyer and review the evidence.
“I think it’s important that we create a record that years from now will stand up, and I think to this point we have not,” Hamilton said. “I think it’s clear that being given the time that we think adequate is not being considered.”
Lane said he would consult with Hamilton today, but planned to name a special panel of six Republicans and four Democrats this week. He offered earlier to let Hamilton pick the Democrats on any special panel, as an alternative to having the House Judiciary Committee hold impeachment hearings.
Within two weeks, Lane predicted, the House either would vote for an impeachment, or he would know that not enough votes existed. The 60-member House has 36 Republicans, and it takes 31 votes to impeach.
“I can’t imagine someone having two weeks of questions. Art and I agree that this is not circus time,” Lane said.
He said the House should limit its hearings because the Senate would hold an impeachment trial. The state constitution requires 20 votes in the 30- member Senate to remove the governor.
Democratic Secretary of State Rose Mofford would take over as governor temporarily if Mecham is impeached by the House and permanently if he is convicted by the Senate.
House special counsel William French has said Mecham concealed a $350,000 campaign loan, improperly borrowed $80,000 from state funds and obstructed an investigation into an aide’s alleged death threat against a grand jury witness. Mecham says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Mecham’s press secretary, Ken Smith, said the governor wanted to address House members directly.
“What we’re looking for is an open forum under proper rules with fairness to the governor,” Smith said.
Lane said, “The governor’s asked to come over, and we’ll see what the members say.”
While a delay in impeachment would prolong Mecham’s survival in office, it also would boost the hopes of Democrats who want to run against Mecham in a recall election.
Mofford has until Jan. 25 to certify recall petitions she is receiving today from county recorders who have been verifying signatures. If there are at least 216,746 valid signatures, as the county officials assert, she must ask Mecham whether he will resign. If he refuses to step down by Feb. 1, she will schedule a recall election within 100 to 120 days.
Recall supporters say they gathered about 350,000 signatures, more than the number of votes the governor received in his 1986 election.
Mecham also faces arraignment Friday on criminal charges of perjury, concealing the campaign loan and filing false financial disclosure statements.
Mecham stirred controversy shortly after taking office last January by rescinding the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for state employees.
Statements he has made since then have prompted complaints from women, homosexuals, Jews and Asian-Americans, and some of his appointees have been rejected as unqualified cronies.