Indicted governor’s retort irks legislators

January 11, 1988

Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham’s attack on his indictment as political persecution brought an angry response from other Republican leaders on the eve of a legislative session that will consider impeachment.

Mecham planned to open the Legislature’s 1988 session with a State of the State address today, just three days after a state grand jury indicted him on fraud and perjury charges for failing to report a $350,000 campaign loan.

Mecham’s spokesman indicated the speech would not discuss the indictment, which the governor addressed Saturday when he pledged not to resign despite “political opportunists in the attorney general’s office.”

The governor declared he was “completely clean” of any intent to violate the law and that he would welcome a public trial as “a breath of fresh air.”

Mecham called the indictment “political persecution, not legal prosecution” and said “a swirl of manipulation, deceit and skulduggery” was being used in an effort to “overthrow a constitutionally elected official.”

State Attorney General Bob Corbin, a Republican like Mecham, said Mecham’s statement was “what I expected … all he does is attack us.”

The governor’s claim that he was the victim of political persecution was “the same junk that I’m doing this because I’m going to run (for governor) in a recall election. No way,” Corbin said.

Mecham, 63, took office a year ago after winning the governorship with 40 percent of the vote on his fifth try.

His cancellation of a holiday for state workers honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., appointment of officials with legal problems and statements taken as offensive by blacks, women and homosexuals led to a recall campaign that is likely to force an election this year.

A state House impeachment inquiry, however, centers on Mecham’s failing to specifically list a $350,000 loan from a developer on campaign-financ e disclosure reports. Mecham and his brother and campaign treasurer, Willard Mecham, were indicted on charges of perjury, willfull concealment and filing a false campaign statement.

House Speaker Joe Lane, a Republican, said he was unhappy with Mecham’s attacks on Corbin and the grand jury system.

Mecham Recall Committee founder Ed Buck called the governor a “liar and a hypocrite” for saying he wanted the charges aired in the open and then refusing to take questions from reporters after he read his 15-minute statement.

State Republican Party Chairman Burton Kruglick said that party leaders will meet soon to assess whether the party should continue supporting the governor.

“Obviously we’ve said there’s a problem here and we need to look at it,” said Kruglick. “I don’t believe in blind loyalty either. There is no question that this is damaging to the party.”

Some lawmakers predict the governor’s influence on the 1988 session will be minimal because he will be too busy fighting his legal battles.

“How anybody can face all these things is beyond me and still govern,” House Majority Whip Jane Hull.

Issues facing the legislature include a 1988-89 budget deficit estimated at up to $300 million, a threatened cutoff of federal highway funds if air quality is not improved in Phoenix and Tucson, and proposals to overhaul Arizona’s debt-ridden program to help the needy with health-care costs.