Politics is politics, Arizonans say of government scandals

August 11, 1997

By MATT KELLEY
Associated Press

KINGMAN, Ariz. — David Ureno just shrugs at the prospect of a second Arizona governor in a decade being driven from office under a legal cloud.

Arizona isn’t any more corrupt than anywhere else, Ureno said; its public officials just have the misfortune of getting caught.

“Politics is politics,” the 46-year-old truck driver said as a federal jury in Phoenix deliberated in the bank fraud case against Gov. Fife Symington. “People do crooked things, and sometimes they get caught and sometimes they don’t. He can’t be completely honest, or else he’d be God’s sidekick.”

For other Arizonans, Symington is the latest reason to be ashamed of a state that has the dubious distinction of having elected — back to back — two of the 11 U.S. governors indicted this century.

“We can’t seem to find a governor who is not corrupt,” said Katie Edwards, a sociology student at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Margot Childers, co-owner of a Western clothing store and a service station in Flagstaff, said friends from out of state always ask, “What’s wrong with Arizona?”

“It’s like, don’t we have any decent people in Arizona?” Childers said. “It’s always embarrassing to talk about our governor.”

Jurors ended their first full day of deliberations Monday without reaching a verdict. Deliberations began Friday afternoon and were to resume Tuesday — Symington’s 52nd birthday.

Arizona’s latest string of scandals began in 1988, when Republican Gov. Evan Mecham was indicted in court and later impeached by the state Senate. A jury later acquitted Mecham of fraud and perjury charges for allegedly hiding a campaign loan.

Symington was the first Republican businessman to publicly back a recall drive against Mecham after the 1988 indictment. Symington later beat Mecham in the 1990 GOP primary.

The next scandal hit shortly after Symington was elected in 1991: 20 state lawmakers and lobbyists were indicted in a bribery case known as AzScam. Seven legislators were convicted on charges connected to the sting operation, in which lawmakers were offered cash in exchange for votes to legalize casino gambling.

Symington is on trial on 21 charges of bank fraud, attempted extortion and perjury. He is accused of misrepresenting his shaky financial condition to get millions of dollars in loans to prop up his real estate business.

“I think Symington is kind of getting crucified,” said Richard Blomberg, 79, of Kingman. “You have people any place in the world that are bad apples. You have to be broad-minded about that kind of stuff.”

The fact that Symington’s 13-week trial has not caused chaos is something to be proud of, said Bob Aprahamiam.

“The judicial process is reaching a decision,” said Aprahamiam, 57, of Phoenix. “I think Arizona should be proud that it has a process that works.”