July 6, 1987
By LARRY LOPEZ
PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Opponents of Republican Gov. Evan Mecham kicked off a petition drive for a recall election Monday, saying Mecham “has embarrassed Arizonans nationally” with his statements and appointments.
Arizona’s Democratic Party opposes the recall movement, saying it hopes Mecham’s continued presence will drive voters to elect a Democratic Legislature next year.
State Republican Party Chairman Burton Kruglick described the movement’s organizers as a “band of homosexual agitators” and accused its founder, acknowledged homosexual Ed Buck, of lying.
Organizers of the drive filed papers formally launching the drive Monday and plan to begin seeking voter signatures Friday. They must gather at least 216,746 by Nov. 3 in order to force a recall election.
The movement has spent about $60,000 to date and will auction off the right to sign the first petition at a party Friday. Buck said about 5,000 people have volunteered to circulate petitions.
“This is not a situation where we have to convince people,” he added. “It’s been our experience that we get mobbed with crowds” whenever information tables are set up.
If they succeed, the election probably could not be held before next spring, and the process could cost about $2 million, according to Secretary of State Rose Mofford.
The recall proponents said Mecham “has embarrassed Arizonans nationally through his insensitive and demeaning statements about women and minorities as well as his appointment of individuals who are not qualified.”
But Mecham is best known for his decision to cancel a Martin Luther King holiday for state employees, which prompted some musicians to cancel concerts in the state and some organizations, most recently the National Basketball Association, to move their conventions elsewhere.
Mecham last month issued a proclamation declaring a King observance day on the third Sunday in January, but opponents say they want a paid weekday off for state employees as was approved by Mecham’s predecessor, Bruce Babbitt. Mecham has contended that a governor has no legal authority to take such an action.
Mecham, in Snowbird, Utah, for the Western Governors Conference, said Monday that Arizona voters liked what he had done for the state and would support him if a recall vote is held.
“I don’t think the people of Arizona are going to follow the lead of a person who is an avowed homosexual and has been arrested on drug and morals charges,” Mecham said, referring to Buck, who was arrested in 1983 in an adult theater for alleged morals violations and in January on a charge of altering a prescription.
Buck pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in the morals case, and the drug case is pending as Buck undergoes a rehabilitation program.
Kruglick issued a statement Monday predicting that “the recall movement is doomed to failure.”
“This is the first day in which petitions can be circulated, and already, Buck and his fringe group of homosexual agitators are lying and deceiving the public,” Kruglick said in a statement hand-delivered to reporters by two GOP aides.
Buck said Sunday that there was a “massive and expensive effort by the governor’s office and the state Republican Party to bolster the governor’s image.”
Kruglick said that was “a complete falsehood” because “the only expenses incurred by the state party on behalf of Governor Mecham was $700 to purchase some bumper stickers.”
Buck said paid party staffers were mobilizing on Mecham’s behalf and noted that the press release alone had cost money and staff time to produce.
Kruglick is trying “to avoid dealing with the real issues,” and his characterization of the recall movement as “homosexual agitators” is “a real insult to the over one million people in the state who want to recall Gov. Mecham,” Buck added. He said other leaders of the movement are heterosexuals.
Mecham, who won a three-way race with about 40 percent of the vote last fall, has been at the center of continual controversy since his January inauguration. Besides international publicity over the King holiday, a number of his major appointments have drawn criticism, sometimes enough to move him to change his selections.
Buck’s committee cites such other issues as economic losses from canceled conventions and a reduced rate of the increase in educational spending despite continued population growth.
The committee also points to such additional civil rights matters as Mecham’s statements that working women cause divorce and that he saw nothing wrong with calling black children “pickaninnies.”
“In his first 180 days as governor of the state of Arizona, Evan Mecham has demonstrated his lack of knowledge, vision and unifying leadership,” the group’s formal statement said.