Governor finally sees the light, and it’s a … laser beam?

This column below by E. J. Montini would be close to the top on any list of irresponsible and malicious attacks on any individual, not only on Montini’s part but also by the public comments of Paul Bender and the unnamed psychiatrist. It was unethical for the psychiatrists to make public judgments of Mecham, and equally unethical for Montini to grant anonymity for such comments. (See “Mecham complained 26 years too early about laser beams“. See also the news article, “Governor Thinks Lasers Being Used For Eavesdropping” and my note at the bottom of that page.)

A decade earlier, I had witnessed similar snarky comments by a columnist become a national joke — equally unjustified. I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal (a legal newspaper) covering the California state capitol and the administration of Governor Jerry Brown. As governor, Brown proposed the establishment of a state space academy and the purchasing of a satellite that would be launched into orbit to provide the state with a telephone and data network, saving millions of dollars a year. Mike Royko, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, read about Brown’s proposal and nicknamed him “Governor Moonbeam”. The nickname quickly became associated with Brown’s quirky politics, which were considered eccentric by some in California and the rest of the nation.

In 1992, almost 15 years later, Royko would disavow the nickname, proclaiming Brown to be “just as serious” as any other politician. Brown’s proposal was similar to one that would indeed eventually be adopted by the state. Yet, the tag Governor Moonbeam is still with us, as are the lingering stories about Mecham’s laser beams.

– Ken Smith


Governor finally sees the light, and it’s a … laser beam?

January 24, 1988

By E. J. Montini, Arizona Republic Columnist

E. J. Montini

What if it isn’t a joke? What would happen if we looked up at the executive office tower at the state Capitol and saw Gov. Evan Mecham covering the windows of his ninth-floor office with aluminum foil to ward off the evil laser beams?

We know what to do if the governor is found guilty by the Senate of high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance in office. We know what to do if a jury finds him guilty of the six felony charges pending against him. We know what to do if he is forced into a recall election.

But what do we do when the descending arc of Mecham’s paranoia goes from blaming his troubles on militant homosexuals and dissident Democrats to blaming them on little green men?

That’s what happened last week.

On Monday, while thousands marched on the state Capitol in support of a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the governor, who had rescinded the holiday, was at home in Glendale listening to a local all-talk radio station.

He telephoned the station three times. Three times.

Even the desperately lonely, strangely neurotic people who are attracted to radio talk shows don’t often call three times in a single day.

Then, on Tuesday, Mecham revealed to a group of lawyers with whom he was having breakfast the reasons that he listens to the radio.

One of those present quoted the governor as saying: “Whenever I’m in my house or my office, I always have a radio on. It keeps the lasers out.”

When asked, “What lasers?” Mecham is reported to have said: “The lasers for eavesdropping. They’re eavesdropping on me. They’re shooting lasers through the windows.”

He didn’t say who “they” are.

At least until Friday, when Mecham was quoted in The Tucson Citizen as saying that the conspiracy to remove him from office includes The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, an unidentified leader of a utility and, according to the article, “behind-the-scenes people with ties to the drug and pornography industries.”

He would not say whether he suspected any member of this group of firing the beams at him.

The governor has said strange things before. He says that he has conversations with God, which is something you can excuse as religious fervor. This time, Ken Smith, the governor’s press secretary, tried to play down the laser remark by saying the governor’s concern “is nothing different than the actions and concerns of many other governors or any other chief executive of any major corporation.”

Right.

During the past year, the Legislature and the attorney general have been caught off-guard and unprepared to deal with the legal complexities of recall, indictment and impeachment. No one thought that all of those things could happen.

But they did.

It doesn’t seem unreasonable, then, to find out whether there are any legal methods for dealing with an officeholder who may be, as the saying goes, off the beam.

According to Paul Bender, dean of the Arizona State University Law School, Article 5 of the Arizona Constitution allows for the secretary of state to assume the governorship in the case of a governor’s “disability to discharge the duties of his office.” That would include, Bender believes, mental disability.

Also, under a state law defining “vacancy in office,” there is a provision that says an office can be declared “vacant” based on the mental condition “of the person holding the office, when judicially determined.”

How we “judicially determine” such a thing, Bender said, is unclear.

Another possibility, according to Bender, would be for the secretary of state to file a quo warranto request with the state Supreme Court. That would ask the court to decide whether the governor was fit. Bender added, “Of course, there again, you’re faced with the possibility of someone having to prove if he is disabled.”

I called a couple of psychiatrists. Each said that it is impossible to make any judgment about Mecham without talking to him.

One added, however, “There are hints of delusion, of paranoia, in his public comments. But all of us would probably have problems in such a stressful situation.

Still, I would hope, based on what I’ve heard, that he has someone to talk to. A professional.”

Mecham believes that those who directed the recall or signed petitions are dangerous radicals or confused dupes. He questions the legality of the recall process, the indictment process, the impeachment process.

He believes that the state attorney general and the director of the Department of Public Safety are corrupt and out to get him. He believes that Rep. Joe Lane, the speaker of the House and a fellow Republican, is out to get him, as are former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, U.S. Sen. John McCain, and U.S. Reps. Jon Kyl, Jay Rhodes and Jim Kolbe. All are Republicans, and all of them have asked Mecham to resign.

All of these people, as well as thousands of others, have spent the past year hoping that Mecham would see the light. None of them would have guessed that, when he finally did, it would be a laser beam.