Evan the Terrible III, Wall Street Journal editorial

Wall Street Journal

April 1, 1988

REVIEW & OUTLOOK (Editorial):

A funny thing has happened on the way to what was thought to be certain conviction for Arizona’s impeached Governor Evan Mecham. The state Senate suddenly voted 16 to 12 Wednesday to dismiss the most serious of the three charges against him — that he failed to report a $350,000 loan to his 1986 campaign.

Mr. Mecham faces a criminal trial on the same charge April 21. Some among the 16 thought the charge groundless, some professed sudden concern about prejudicing the trial, and others felt a backlash starting and were in a hurry to vote on something. It now seems some anti-Mecham senators are pausing on the other two charges — a grand jury failed to issue an indictment on either. So at press time last night, the Senate was voting on whether to rescind its action and resurrect the charge it just dropped.

In short, the Senate trial, which has resembled a circus from the start, now has taken on the trappings of an Alice in Wonderland proceeding: “Sentence first, verdict afterwards! Charge later.” Gary Peter Klahr, an ACLU official who was an attorney and research director for the Recall Mecham movement, now is aghast. “The anti-Mecham people started out with a good purpose,” he says. “Now many are a lynch mob out to frame the governor on flaky criminal charges. They are really political offenses the voters should judge.”

What is being billed as an effort to rid Arizona of an oafish executive looks more and more like a power play to install an establishment candidate in the governor’s mansion, and the establishment has reason to worry about what the voters think. An Arizona Republic poll last Sunday found that an astonishing 34% of those likely to vote in the recall back Mr. Mecham. That ties him with Acting Governor Rose Mofford and puts him well ahead of former GOP Congressman John Rhodes and Carolyn Warner, the Democrat who lost to Mr. Mecham in 1986. The poll has Mr. Mecham only six points below his winning 40% margin of 1986. Mr. Klahr says the poll results prompted the Senate to schedule an immediate vote on conviction.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mofford, who is also secretary of state, at first disclaimed interest in running for governor in the recall election. State law requires she resign both her offices if she runs. Her establishment backers first tried to cancel the recall upon a Mecham conviction. When that failed they put her on the ballot by claiming she could keep her posts and still run if she were “drafted” into the race. A court ruling is expected next week.

Mrs. Warner has announced she will withdraw from the recall race if Mrs. Mofford stays on the ballot. Anti-Mecham activists, fearing that Mrs. Warner’s presence in the race could elect Mr. Mecham again, have pressured her to pull out.

Stories mysteriously surfaced that she too had failed to list the source of a large loan to her 1986 campaign.

A headline in last Sunday’s Republic read: “Many Tax Hikes Urged to Save Arizona Budget.” The GOP chairman of the House tax committee, a Mecham foe, wants a $300 million tax hike to block cuts in the state’s $2.9 billion budget. Mr. Mecham won in 1986 because he was the only candidate four-square against more taxes; he now is the main obstacle the taxhikers face.

We’ve said before that we don’t particularly care if Evan Mecham goes or stays, but somehow it seems to us the decision ought to be made at the polls, not in some kind of Roman circus with patricians pointing their thumbs up or down.