Arizona Supreme Court orders cancellation of gubernatorial recall vote

April 12, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court ordered the May 17 gubernatorial recall election canceled Tuesday because its target, former Gov. Evan Mecham, has already been removed from office.

The 4-1 decision means the new governor, Democrat Rose Mofford, would serve out Mecham’s term through 1990. The former secretary of state became governor on April 4 when Mecham, a Republican, was convicted on impeachment charges by the Senate.

However, a Republican candidate in the recall election, Jack Londen, said he would consider whether to appeal the decision to federal court on grounds his due process rights were violated.

“I’m shocked,” Londen said, adding that he believes the Constitution allows voters to recall a governor and choose the next one. “The Supreme Court took it upon themselves to take away half the right,” he said.

Mrs. Mofford was en route to Phoenix from Washington D.C., but her spokeswoman, Athia Hardt, said she was pleased with the decision because it saves taxpayers’ money and “permits her to move forward with her own team in a permanent manner.”

Former Rep. John Rhodes, also a Republican candidate in the recall election, said in a statement that he was disappointed but was willing to support Mrs. Mofford.

“Like the little boy that Abraham Lincoln told about, ‘I’m too old to cry, but it hurts too much to laugh,”‘ said Rhodes, who had planned to hold a fundraiser Tuesday night in Washington.

The Supreme Court said the order of succession following impeachment and conviction of the governor takes precedence over the state constitutional provision on recall. The court ordered acting Secretary of State Karen Osborne to cancel the election.

The justices did not give further explanation, saying they would issue a formal opinion later. Justice James Duke Cameron provided the dissenting vote.

The recall was challenged by two taxpayers who contended it was no longer necessary and would be a waste of money. Their attorney, Andrew Gordon, told the court Tuesday, “The purpose of the recall has been fulfilled … Recall is the people’s alternative to impeachment.”

Mecham Recall Committee founder Ed Buck, who had favored holding the election, said he felt both disappointment and relief.

“I’m a little bit disappointed because I think a recall election would have given us the opportunity to put Evan Mecham behind us once and for all,” Buck said, “because Evan Mecham would have received so few votes that he and his supporters would see how weak Evan Mecham really was.”

Attorney General Bob Corbin, whose office argued on Ms. Osborne’s behalf that the recall vote must be held, said he was not disappointed or surprised.

“I can live with what the Supreme Court did,” Corbin said. “We’ve never had it (simultaneous impeachment and recall) before, and I hope we never have it again.”

State GOP Chairman Burton Kruglick said he was disappointed but added, “I hope this action will put to rest the turmoil that has surrounded the state.”

Mecham spokesman Norman Martin said the former governor would not make a statement on the decision until Wednesday evening.

During oral arguments, Gordon said Mrs. Mofford is not a “stop-gap governor” but is the new chief executive who should finish Mecham’s four-year term.

Gordon said it would be an improper “mix and match” of constitutional provisions to remove Mecham through impeachment conviction and then force Mrs. Mofford to face possible removal herself through the recall electtion.

But Corbin’s office said the election must go forward because Arizona voters have the right to decide who their governor will be. The election “has been called for by the people and there is no way that we can see that it can be cut off,” said Assistant Attorney General Jessica Funkhouser.

The recall ballot would not have asked if Mecham should be recalled, but simply would have listed the candidates. Mecham’s name would have been included if he were still governor, but it was removed last week following the impeachment conviction.

Mecham was removed April 4 when the Senate convicted him of trying to thwart a death threat investigation and of misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.