Recall Fete at Capitol Is Bedlam

Please also read my note at the bottom of this page.

Here is a prime example of the distorted and biased news coverage of Governor Evan Mecham. This news article, more than any other single item or event, convinced me that I was fighting a losing battle in trying to get some even-handed local news coverage regarding Mecham. Please note the sympathetic tone of the article in describing the antics of Ed Buck, who truly was an obnoxious twerp. Also, please click on the thumbnail image to the right to see an enlargement of the photo, which shows Buck and others in a publicity stunt. The boxes were empty. If you are offended by profanity, avoid the notes. But, I believe it is very important to accurately and fully quote Ed Buck, who was characterized as the leader of the recall movement against Governor Mecham.

– Ken Smith


From the front page of The Arizona Republic

Police Block Entry, Run After Ed Buck

November 3, 1987

By Sam Stanton
The Arizona Republic

Opponents of Gov. Evan Mecham marched on the state Capitol on Monday to symbolically present 388,988 petition signatures for a recall of the governor, but their cheerful procession degenerated into bedlam as they tried to force their way past state police officers.

The real petitions had been filed secretly earlier in the day with Secretary of State Rose Mofford. Recall officials said they had filed the documents earlier because they had received death threats and threats that an armored car carrying the petitions would be firebombed.

The recall supporters reached Mofford’s office for a petition-filing ceremony after a 20-minute chase in which the recall movement’s founder, Ed Buck, ran through the House and Senate buildings trying to find out why access to the eastern wing of the Capitol had been blocked.

No one was arrested or hurt in the melee. But several people were jostled as police officers tried to tackle Buck, who raced through the halls carrying a bullhorn while demanding to know why his followers could not walk through the old Capitol into the adjoining executive tower, which houses the offices of both Mecham and Mofford. The tower entrance on the Capitol’s West Wing was open.

“We intend to walk through what is public property in exercising democracy,” Buck shouted through his bullhorn as he and about 200 supporters were blocked from entering the Capitol’s East Wing.

His shouts were drowned out by chants of “Onward! Onward! Onward!” as recall supporters shoved their way toward the doors.

Capitol Police Chief Lee Limbs blocked the doors with his officers and told Buck that House Speaker Joe Lane had ordered them to stop the procession through the old Capitol building.

After a few moments of shouting and shoving, Buck led his procession — followed by dozens of Arizona and national reporters — into the state House of Representatives, where he tried to take an elevator to Lane’s office.

Security agents stopped Buck from the elevator, and Buck raced across the lobby toward the stairs, where other agents blocked him.

Buck returned to the mall between the House and Senate as his supporters and pro-Mecham ralliers shouted deafening slogans.

“We want Ev,” members of Concerned Arizona Voters, a Mecham support group, chanted at Buck and his followers.

“We want Ev, too, and we’re going to get him before you do,” Buck yelled back.

He then ran into the Senate building, where he eluded a state Department of Public Safety officer who tried to tackle him.

Buck raced up the stairs with at least 50 people running behind him, including several reporters who tripped and fell, and another who ran face- first into a marble column.

Buck lost his way and ended up on the third floor — one floor above Senate President Carl Kunasek’s office — before a reporter told him where the Senate leadership could be found.

When he found Kunasek’s office, Buck was greeted at the door by the Senate president’s secretary, who blocked the doorway with her arms and told him that Kunasek was out of town.

“Is he trying to hide behind a woman?” Buck asked before leaving the Senate.

Kunasek and Lane were in southern Arizona on Monday as part of a state Chamber of Commerce tour.

When Buck emerged from the Senate, Capitol police had given up and allowed the recall supporters to walk through the old Capitol building to the tower, where Buck met hundreds of his supporters and opponents in the lobby.

Lane said later that Capitol security police have standing orders to lock the Capitol entrance if any major disruption occurs on the grounds. He said it was decided to open the doors when recall demonstrators “started to raise the roof.”

Once recall backers were allowed into the Capitol, the customarily quiet lobby of the nine-story executive tower became the scene of a wild, chanting, cheering, foot-stomping rally.

Recall supporters shouted, “Ev, resign. Ev, resign,” and, “Recall Ev. Recall Ev.”

Then they stomped and clapped in unison, much like frenzied fans at a football game.

Overlooking the lobby from the second floor were many state workers and a portrait of a smiling Mecham.

The recallers chanted, “The good people speak,” a reference to Mecham’s statements that he still has the support of the “good people” of Arizona.

Realizing they were being out-shouted, a small, but equally enthusiastic, group of Mecham supporters broke in every time the recallers paused to take a breath.

As soon as the recall supporters finished with, “The good people speak,” the pro-Mecham people shouted, “No.”

The screams, shouts and chants from the lobby could be heard in Mofford’s seventh-floor office, where she had kept the petitions under lock and key since receiving them at about 11:30 a.m.

Mofford signed a receipt for the 32,401 petitions. At least 216,746 valid signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Mofford, a Democrat who would become governor if Mecham resigned, brushed aside questions about her political future, saying she did not want to create a conflict of interest.

Mofford must send the petitions to each of Arizona’s 15 counties, where county recorders will determine how many of the signatures are those of registered voters.

The process is expected to take until spring, and if enough valid signatures have been gathered, an election is not expected before May.

Smith said he does not know whether Mecham will file a legal challenge to the petitions or against the validity of the Arizona Constitution’s recall provision.

State Republican Chairman Burt Kruglick called Monday’s filing of the petitions “just one step in a lengthy process to initiate a special election.

“Until the signatures are validated and a determination made as to whether an election will be held, the Arizona Republican Party will continue to concentrate on its political programs to elect Republicans to office in 1988,” Kruglick said.

Monday’s tumultuous scene at the Capitol culminated an effort that Buck began in December, the month before Mecham took office.

The movement began collecting signatures July 6 and has until today to file the last of its signatures. The committee’s goal was to collect 350,000 signatures.

Buck’s followers gathered east of the Capitol at Wesley Bolin Plaza on Monday for a 2 p.m. rally. One hour earlier, Concerned Arizona Voters descended on the eastern end of the Capitol for a rally and press conference to show support for the GOP governor.

The pro-Mecham group numbered about 130 and carried signs reading, “Keep Arizona Morally Clean,” and, “Mecham’s an Honest Man That Scares Them Rats.”

Don Ruzicka, a founder of the group, told reporters that there is no legitimate reason for Mecham to be removed from office.

“The people of Arizona have been led to believe that there is little or no support for Governor Mecham and that any remaining support is crumbling,” Ruzicka told a cheering crowd. “The Concerned Arizona Voters are here to assure you that there is a wide base of support of Governor Mecham throughout the state, and that support is being mobilized.”

Leaders of the group asked their supporters to stay away from the recall rally to avoid confrontations.

A few crossed 17th Avenue to watch as recall supporters rallied while listening to Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder songs.

“This is the strongest, loudest voice that Arizona has ever spoken with,” Buck told his supporters.

Buck was accompanied by a security guard, hired after Buck received a death threat Sunday night in which he said a caller promised that he wouldn’t “cross the street with those petitions alive.”

Recall officials also said they had received information that the Posse Comitatus planned to attack the armored car carrying the petitions.

Garry Smith, president of the Mecham Recall Committee, said he arranged with Mofford on Sunday to deliver the petitions early because of the threats.

Undercover Phoenix police officers patrolled the area, but there were no incidents until Buck marched to the Capitol’s eastern wing, which houses the state museum. Alberto Gutier, state personnel director, said earlier that both sides would be kept out of the old Capitol, where many antiques and documents are on display.

“This is a public building,” he said. “This lobby is used for artistic and charitable purposes, not for political rallies. It would disrupt state business.”

After the ban had been lifted, Gutier, standing in the midst of all the turmoil, sighed and said, “The idea went to hell.”

Buck said later that he did not think his tear through the Capitol grounds would hurt the recall. But, hoarse from shouting and drenched with sweat, Buck said he regretted calling Limbs a “baboon” and shouting at others who blocked his run.

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NOTE:

Here is my best single example of the distorted and biased news coverage of Governor Mecham. This story, more than any other single item or event, convinced me that I was fighting a losing battle in trying to get some even-handed news coverage regarding Governor Evan Mecham.

First, please note in the news article by Sam Stanton above that it is in the final paragraph that Buck calls Lee Limbs a baboon. What Buck actually yelled was “fucking black baboon,” followed several more times by “black baboon.”

Limbs, an African-American, was a decent and honest man who greatly appreciated his appointment by Governor Mecham as state capitol police chief. I would bet my last dollar that if one of Mecham’s supporters had called State Representative Art Hamilton (also an African-American) a “fucking black baboon” at a public rally covered by dozens of reporters and television cameras it would have made national news. Instead, Buck’s racial slur was dismissed in the last paragraph of Stanton’s article.

Second, although I was apparently the only one bothered by it, the photo accompanying this article shows Ed Buck, Naomi Harward and Roger Axford, and dozens of others, carrying boxes of recall petitions into the capitol to be filed. (See the image at the top of this page.)

Well, those boxes were empty because the petitions had actually been filed the day before and every local reporter knew it. This rally with the decorated cardboard boxes was nothing more than a media event. It was a publicity stunt and every journalist there knew it, and yet the reportage made little or no mention that the boxes were empty and that the petitions had been delivered the day before.

I called Gavin Scott, the Associated Press bureau chief in Phoenix, to protest about the media and particularly AP covering this staged event without saying it was put on for the benefit of the news media. I became even angrier and more disgusted when I learned that AP put this photo on the national wire without saying that the boxes were empty.

I am still amazed at Gavin Scott’s response. He admitted that the news media were being used, then lamented that he did not know what could be done about it. I suggested that he could accurately write that the boxes were empty. Here’s the shocker: Gavin Scott, veteran AP newsman, said if the photo had been distributed on the national wire with caption stating the boxes were empty, then none of AP’s client newspapers would have run the photo.

Third, Buck was mad with power and apparently more than a little disoriented. He could not find Kunasek’s office. So, the reporters who were chasing Buck actually got in front of him to help Buck find his way. This is more than a minor point. Instead of being neutral observers, the reporters began to make the news by leading the crowd.

Fourth, Buck is presented sympathetically. The phrase “hoarse from shouting and drenched with sweat” gives him almost heroic qualities. This phrase is used to introduce Buck’s back-handed apology for calling Limbs a “baboon,” which, you will note, was not previously mentioned in the article.

In my mind, these journalistic abuses are far greater injuries to our national character than anything Mecham might have said or done. The entire country read about Mecham in the newspapers and saw him on television making a series of dumb mistakes. There was no coverage of the coverage itself.