When shameful saga is over, how many will deny Mecham?

January 24, 1988

By Pat Murphy
Publisher, The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette

Pat Murphy

Surely it has dawned on some of those who owe their jobs in state government to Evan Mecham that the end for their benefactor might be near.

And surely some have begun to wonder what it will be like to venture into the work world with job resumes that list the last professional position as a post with Evan Mecham, a governor in disgrace.

Employers everywhere with even the most casual grasp of daily events know the name Evan Mecham, even in Europe and the Far East. Cab drivers know the name.

Comics have lampooned him on national network television.

Electronic information systems such as Vu/Text, Lexis/Nexis, Datatimes, Washington Alert Service and Dialog are filled with information on Evan Mecham and the staggering litany of allegations that accuse him of criminal conduct, malfeasance in office, incivility, incompetence, racial coarseness, as well as bizarre claims that he’s beset by a world of satanic and evil conspiracies, some capable of using laser bugging devices to invade his privacy at home and at work.

“And what did you do for Governor Mecham,” the governor’s aides might be asked in job interviews in the real world where standards simply don’t condone what has typified the madcap executive style on the 9th floor of the statehouse.

“Were you a friend of Governor Mecham or a political acquaintance?”

For some, their time with Gov. Mecham will merely be a harmless interlude. For example, Max Hawkins, the director of the Department of Administration and the mastermind who brought Evan Mecham from obscurity to prominence, probably will retreat into the political darkness from whence he came. He’ll emerge some day in the future with another candidate such as Evan Mecham, produce a campaign tabloid that smears political opponents and then hope to ride to a new job on the coattails of a man such as Mecham.

Then there are those who will carry a burden for the rest of their lives, such as Burton Kruglick, the chairman of the state Republican Party who places expediency over loyalty.

Kruglick was the impassioned disciple and outspoken booster of former House Majority Leader Burton Barr, the favored Republican gubernatorial candidate in the 1986 primary. To Kruglick, Barr’s campaign rival, Evan Mecham, was a political oddball who’d never worked in the party mainstrean and had never won higher offices to which he aspired after leaving the state Legislature in the 1960s.

Alas, Kruglick’s man Barr lost and Kruglick’s worst dream came true. But as fast as Kruglick could change his colors, he was on the other side, cozying up to Evan Mecham.

From the start, Burton Kruglick has remained Evan Mecham’s faithful crony and apologist, excusing the governor’s crude conduct or ignoring it when he couldn’t excuse it and even trying to organize — unsuccessfully as it turned out — a program to rehabilitate the governor politically by changing his image.

The Republican Party chairman’s loyalty became even more devout when the governor gave Kruglick’s wife an appointment to the administration and a handsome salary.

Neither the Republican Party nor the interests of Arizona ever interfered with Burton Kruglick’s blind devotion to Evan Mecham.

Republicans who’ve been embarrassed by the governor and Kruglick, and on whom the governor has either publicly or privately turned with charges of disloyalty, have their long knives handy.

Kruglick is first on their list to go when they have the chance.

Then there is Ken Smith, the governor’s press secretary, whose appointment by Mecham to the inner circle seems the high point of an otherwise meager career.

Some of those on the fringes of the executive branch say that Smith has been keeping copious notes about Mecham, and has outlined a book. I never knew a political press secretary who didn’t.

If Smith, indeed, is the first with a book that recites intimate insights about the governor’s conduct, he will be one of those who will profit after the ordeal, joining the likes of fallen Watergate figures who used their service with the disgraced Richard Nixon for books.

Children and grandchildren of men caught up in this bizarre and shameful political saga might well be asked in some distant school year to write essays on what their fathers and grandfathers did for Evan Mecham, just as children have written essays about fathers’ proximity to other chapters of history, such as war.

But, just as it was difficult to find faithful Nazi servants of Adolf Hitler in postwar Germany, many of those who served unblinkingly during the dark days of Evan Mecham’s reign may choose to deny they had any hand in one of the most shameful episodes of Arizona history.