An Analysis of the Impeachment Case against Evan Mecham

During the impeachment of Governor Mecham, John Kromko was a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, representing part of Tucson. Kromko was arguably among the farthest left politicians ever elected to the Arizona legislature. The following is the text of a speech he gave on the floor of the House during the impeachment and recall turmoil. His personal assessment of Mecham is very harsh, but his understanding and presentation of the facts of the case are spot on. I made dozens of copies of Kromko’s floor speech, giving them to all reporters. My goal was to get some news coverage of the points raised by Kromko, but the press was not interested.

– Ken Smith

January 21, 1988

Distributed to members on the floor after remarks.

By John Kromko

Member, Arizona House of Representatives

Ev Mecham is insensitive, bigoted, heavy handed, graceless, unforgiving, spiteful, and cruel. He is also a Republican and downright nasty. I hit the nail on the head a long time ago when I publicly called him a bad man.

There, I’ve gotten that out of the way right at the top. A necessary step in these troubled times lest anyone accuse me of being, God forbid, a Mecham supporter.

With Mecham dominating the media for longer than I want to remember, it is very surprising that several vital points have not been made clear to the public. One of these is the difference between recall and impeachment.

Recall is a constitutionally guaranteed option available to the people if and when they realize that they made a mistake when they elected an official. The grounds for recall are simple, being only that the people aren’t satisfied with the job he’s doing. He doesn’t have to be guilty of anything … the people just vote him out on the same basis that they voted him in. Officials are well protected against against frivolous recall by the massive number of signatures and the public vote required.

Mecham’s constant blunders make recall appropriate. Those who gathered recall signatures did a wise and necessary thing. The people should now be allowed to exercise their right to promptly throw him out of office.

Impeachment requires actual crimes and malfeasance … actions contrary to law. Insensitivity, nastiness, even stupidity, don’t make it. In spite of all the hoopla, it isn’t at all clear that Mecham has committed actual crimes. Surprisingly, a detailed and clear description of the charges against him has not been presented to the public.

During a campaign, candidates have to file campaign reports listing contributions and expenditures. The main impeachment charge against Mecham is that he failed to report a campaign loan from a man named Wolfson. (Mr. Wolfson has made a lot of money by obtaining low interest government bonds and investing the money in higher interest accounts. Clever capitalists have been doing this in Arizona for years.)

It’s easy to see that it is possible that Mecham filed a correct report. Suppose that Mr. C is a candidate whose campaign has run low on funds a month before the election. He isn’t able to raise any more contributions so he personally tries to borrow some money. The bank loans him $1,000 and his neighbor $500 (these are loans to Mr. C personally). He takes this with $200 cash that he has and puts it all into his campaign.

On his campaign report Mr. C would list: “Loan from Mr. C to the campaign … $1,700.” There really isn’t any other way for this transaction to be reported. The bank and the neighbor definitely have not loaned the money to the campaign nor have they contributed to the campaign, so there is no reason for them to be listed. When candidates loan money to their own campaigns, they don’t say where they earned or obtained the money. Candidates often finish campaigns in debt without listing who they owe the money to. (Candidates list campaign debts, but not personal debts, on campaign reports which are filed after they are elected).

This situation is virtually identical to the Mecham case, so it is understandable that he feels that he has done nothing wrong. If Mecham didn’t have to report the loan, then several related charges are groundless. The related charges are:

  • A) That Mecham combined the Wolfson loan with other money in order to hide it. He could combine his personal money just as Mr. C did. (The charge has been made that many small contributions of $10 or $20 were not combined in the same way, but those were contributions from others, not personal loans from Mecham.)
  • B) That Mecham deliberately delayed receiving the loan from Wolfson so it would not appear on his report until after the election. This is nonsense. Candidates often delay receiving or spending money so it won’t have to be reported until after the election. It’s a commonly used loophole in the law.
  • C) That Mecham committed perjury by knowingly signing a false report. One felony for writing the report, one felony for signing it … pretty steep charges.

The second major charge is that Mecham failed to report the personal loan from Wolfson on his personal financial report which was filed in January shortly after he took office. Candidates must list the names of anyone to whom they owed $1,000 or more during the previous year. Mecham did not list Wolfson’s name on his report.

But the loan from Wolfson to Mecham was actually a line of credit. Wolfson never released any money until after he received security in the form of a promise to pay from various individuals. Mecham persuaded several individuals to sign notes promising to pay Mecham $50,000 four months in the future. Mecham then signed each of those notes over to Wolfson who then advanced the $50,000. At no time did Mecham owe Wolfson money.

Several of the note signers have complained that they had no idea that they ended up owing money to Wolfson, but they had no right to know. The notes were clearly marked “negotiable.” Most people have no idea who they are actually making their house payments to since their mortgage companies have long since signed their notes over to someone else … maybe Wolfson.

The third charge against Mecham is that he loaned state funds to Mecham Pontiac.

As usual, after the election a totally private committee was set up to run the inaugural even and money was raised from ticket sales and contributions. Such funds are private and the committee could do anything with them. They decided to pay off Mecham’s campaign debt, but some of the contributions exceeded the maximum political contribution allowed by Proposition 200, which had just passed.

The committee then decided to give the money to the State to be used for doing various good works. Mecham subsequently loaned some of the money to his car dealership, leading to the charge against him. (It is interesting to note that the committee could have given the money to Mecham or anybody else as a gift which could have been spent in any way, such as paying off debts.)

The obvious problem with the charge is that Mecham did not loan State funds because they had not yet been turned over to the State. The State still has no record of receiving them nor did the State treasurer ever have any accounting or control of them. At the time of the loan the funds were not in any State account but were still in a private account at the Valley Bank.

The final, and most ridiculous, charge against Mecham is that he obstructed a criminal investigation.

It seems that two of the governor’s staff people, Mr. Watkins and Ms. Griffith, were talking one day when Mr. Watkins said something like, “Donna’s talking too much, she might go on a long boat ride and never come back.” He was referring to former staffer Donna Carlson who was testifying before the grand jury about Mecham.

Ms. Griffith told several people about this and when the Attorney General heard he naturally started a full scale investigation. Governor Mecham told several people not to talk to the Attorney General about this matter, so he was charged with obstructing justice. Even without resorting to details like asking if a reasonable person would have thought that Mr. Watkins was really going to do something to Ms. Carlson, the case has a major problem.

Ms. Griffith is the only one who heard the threat. The AG can ask her what happened. If she refuses to say, there is no case. If she does say, how can someone who heard the story from her withhold information? In other words, what information could the Governor obstructed the AG from obtaining?

In summary, in spite of all the heat that has been generated, the impeachment case against Evan Mecham is surprisingly weak. But it doesn’t matter because there is probably a majority of legislators who want to get rid of him … fast.

They don’t feel like waiting for a recall election. They don’t like him … never did. Almost all of the legislators supported someone else in the election. So did almost all of the newspapers and almost all of the power structure.

I don’t like him either. It just bothers me because if a governor can be impeached with the kind of charges we’ve seen so far, are we striking a blow at the office of the governor itself and at all of those who may hold it in the future?