Hispanic business leaders meet with Mecham

August 12, 1987

By LORI K. WEINRAUB
United Press International

PHOENIX — Hispanic business and community leaders have given Gov. Evan Mecham a sound tongue lashing, saying he is perceived as “racist.”

“There’s a lot of anger in the state of Arizona that he may be racist,” said Tom Espinoza, a former president of the state Board of Education, after a two-hour meeting Tuesday between Mecham and Hispanics.

Espinoza, who said many Hispanics perceive Mecham as being “insensitive,” said Hispanics were upset by the Republican governor’s decision to abolish the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and ‘his comment that NBA officials, who canceled a meeting in Scottsdale because of the King holiday, should note many whites attend professional basketball games. “There is a feeling inside that that perception may be right.”

Meantime, an assistant attorney general said a meeting Monday between Mecham and black business leaders should have been open to the media because the businessmen were asked to serve on a task force.

Black business leaders invited to the meeting were sent letters by Joseph Parham, director of the Office of Affirmative Action, asking them to serve on the Governor’s Task Force for Black Business.

“Under the circumstances I now know, I believe the task force which was purportedly established through that letter would be subject to the Open Meeting Law,” said Steve Twist, chief assistant attorney general.

The governor’s office said the meeting was intended to be advisory in nature, where people could express their views to the governor. Twist said Edith Richardson, a special assistant to the governor, told him the group was not meant to be a task forces.

Parham, who also sent letters to three ministers inviting them to serve on the Governor’s Interdenominational Religion Task Force, said he did not know he violated the Open Meeting Law.

One of the businessmen who attended the meeting, Denzil Kenneth Solomon of Hemodynamics Inc., said he was “astonished” by the turn of events.

Solomon said he had no doubt the group was to be an official task force, and he believed the group would have some “teeth” to effect changes.

According to Solomon, the tone of the meeting gave the business leaders the impression they would have real input.

“I thought this was a good faith effort by the governor to make some changes,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why I attended the meeting.”

Following the meeting with Hispanics, Espinoza, a Democrat, said he believed the governor was “very attentive” even though the dialogue was “not all positive.” Espinoza also said some business leaders expressed concerns they may be perceived as “window dressing” in light of the recall movement.

“I wish these meetings would have occurred a couple of months after his election,” he said.

Espinoza, who said he is not a Mecham supporter but praised some of his stands, such as his opposition to a Constitutional amendment to make English the state’s official language, said the governor did not apologize for anything.

“He feels he’s right,” said Espinoza, who runs Espinoza Development Corp.

Joseph Castillo, chairman of the Republican Hispanic Committee, said there was more criticism than praise, and that some staff members of the administration were singled out for a lashing. The business leaders also faulted Mecham for his relations with the media.

Castillo told the governor he would like to see more Hispanics appointed to the administration and to boards and commissions, such as the Board of Regents.

The Republican Hispanic Committee had criticized Mecham for not consulting officials before hiring Zoe Soto, a former beauty queen and weathercaster, as his liaison to the Hispanic community. Castillo said that problem has been resolved.

Castillo also said the governor “hasn’t changed too much” and that he still responds to criticisms by defending his position.

The Hispanics were invited to the meeting by telephone.

The governor this week also plans to meet with a special interests advisory group, leaders of veterans groups and officials of political organizations.

The governor’s press secretary, Ron Bellus, said black business leaders will be sent letters telling them it was “unfortunate and incorrect” if they believed they were being appointed to a task force.

Earlier Tuesday, Bellus said Twist approved the closed door meetings. But Twist said he was not aware of the letters when he merfirst met with Bellus. Twist said the governor can hold private meetings with people who are invited to discuss issues with him.

The governor also plans to meet this week with Hispanics. leaders of special interest groups, political organizations and veterans.