Mecham berates House Speaker over subpoena

Please see “Evan Mecham letter to Joe Lane”. Reporter Sam Stanton described the letter as “blistering”, as though it was unusual for a governor to object to being removed from office for a contrived scandal. Please also see my note at the bottom of this page.

– Ken Smith


December 22, 1987

By Sam Stanton
The Arizona Republic

Gov. Evan Mecham, angry that House Speaker Joe Lane has subpoenaed his personal financial records, on Monday lashed out at the Willcox Republican, saying he has hit a “new low in politics and a new high in wasting taxpayers’ money.”

Mecham, in a blistering three-page letter to Lane, said that had Lane asked, he would have disclosed where he obtained $150,000 to pay off a controversial campaign loan from attorney and developer Barry Wolfson.

“If you would have asked me directly, I would have told you,” Mecham said.

“It is quite simple: Two friends of mine, Earl Johnson and Eddie Johnson, father and son, each made personal loans to me of $75,000. I then loaned the funds to the Mecham Finance Committee to pay off the Wolfson loan.”

Earl Johnson could not be reached for comment, but a woman who said she is his wife said she knows nothing about a loan to the governor from either man. Eddie Johnson also could not be reached for comment.

Mecham, in his letter, also asked Lane to ask House members whether they want to continue the House probe into whether the governor should be impeached.

The governor insisted that he has done nothing illegal and added that he is immediately ready to be called to the witness stand and produce “all of my records.”

“I want some sunshine on this investigation so that we may dry up these moldy allegations of illegal acts committed by me or my campaign staff,” the letter said.

Lane, in a press conference called after he received the letter, said he issued the subpoena last week for Mecham’s bank records because the governor had indicated earlier this month that he would not reveal the source of the money until he is required to do so next year.

Lane added that, in the future, he will call Mecham to ask for information and that if he does not receive it, he will continue to issue subpoenas.

Lane questioned whether the governor actually favors an open investigation.

He said Mecham’s attorney has fought previous House subpoenas in court.

Lane rejected Mecham’s call for a poll of House members, saying he already has done that and found support for a probe of the governor’s finances.

He said House members will gather in a public meeting tentatively scheduled for Jan. 8 to discuss whether there is enough evidence to warrant the start of impeachment proceedings.

The Legislature begins its regular session Jan. 11 with a “State of the State” speech by Mecham to the Legislature.

Lane charged that the letter by Mecham came from the governor’s attorney, Murray Miller, who, Lane said, has been trying to “fog the investigation.”

“It appears that Murray Miller, of course, had written the letter, and those of you who have read his past works would know that the phraseology in there is pure Miller,” he said. “I mean, his fingerprints are all over that thing, and he wants to continue to fog the investigation, and I think that’s the governor’s tack since Day 1.”

“Not true,” Mecham spokesman Ken Smith said.

“The governor wrote a version. Murray Miller wrote a version. The governor had a draft. Murray Miller had a draft, and I put them together.”

The House special counsel, William French, has asked Lane to subpoena information on several Mecham campaign accounts, and he said Monday that records obtained to date show that $150,000 was deposited into the Mechams’ personal checking account Dec. 4, the same day Wolfson received a $157,000 check to pay off the balance of the loan.

The governor’s wife, Florence, wrote a $150,000 check on that account the same day to a “Mecham for Governor” account used to pay off the loan. In addition, a $10,000 check from Miller was deposited to the “Mecham for Governor” account the same day, French said.

That check carried a notation that it was a refund of a retainer, French added.

French said he received bank records on Mecham’s personal account Monday from the bank but was seeking better copies from the bank. Later, Mecham’s office said it had delivered the same records to French from the governor.

French said he hopes to interview Mecham privately before he delivers a recommendation on whether the governor should be impeached.

He added that his probe is centered on tracing money from various accounts in Mecham’s name or that of his campaign committee.

“We have been tracing funds,” French said. “We continue to trace funds.” French said he will investigate whether the money from the Johnsons was legal under the state’s new campaign finance law. And he rejected a point made in Mecham’s letter to Lane that the investigation is an “invasion of my privacy.”

“This is not an attempt to invade the privacy of the governor,” French said, “this is a legal process. It’s not a fishing expedition because the people have a right to know who are making substantial loans and or contributions and/or whatever they are to the governor of this state.”

Mecham’s letter also criticized Lane because copies of the subpoena for his personal bank records had been made available to reporters without notifying the governor, a point that angered Miller on Friday.

“Mr. French issued the subpoena and had copies delivered to the news media,” the letter said. “But, he did not have the courtesy, decency or common sense to make a copy of the subpoena available to me or my attorney.”

Smith, Mecham’s spokesman, said the governor’s letter had been delivered to Lane 15 or 20 minutes before it was given to reporters.

But Lane’s office said it had not received the letter and asked a reporter for a copy to give to the speaker.

“Well, doggone it,” Smith said when he was told that. “That’s exactly what I criticized Mr. French for. I waited 15 minutes after the messenger left this office. I messed up.”

————————————–

NOTE:

The drafts of the letter by Mecham and Miller were not quite as formal as this news article would indicate. Mecham had made some notes for the letter, and called me at home fairly late in the evening. I took notes on what Mecham wanted to say to Lane. Earlier that evening, I had talked with Miller by phone. Miller read an outline of some of the points he wanted to make. I got up early the next morning and wrote the letter to Lane, merging the thoughts of Mecham and Miller. Contrary to what Joe Lane may have thought, the letter was not pure Miller.

I was becoming more and more convinced that Mecham was being impeached because he was perceived by some as having politically incorrect behavior rather than for real offenses. Also, I had learned that many of Joe Lane’s own party members in the House of Representatives were asking why Lane was acting on his own, without input from other Republicans. The letter was a good opportunity for Mecham to lay out his side of the case.

As for Lane not receiving the letter before it was delivered to the news media, this was actually nothing more than incompetence by one delivery clerk. I had asked that the letter be delivered to Lane, then wait 15 minutes and deliver it to the news media. Our legislative messenger decided to take a long break before delivering the letter, while the messenger who handled deliveries to the press corps did the job immediately because she wanted to go home early.

Rather than get into the details of our messenger system, I told reporters that the delivery error was my fault. I was puzzled and amused that they cleaned up my language. I actually said “I screwed up.” Either Sam Stanton or his editor changed it to “I messed up,” which I thought made me sound a bit juvenile. Perhaps I was too salty for the prissy standards of the Arizona Republic.