Evan the Terrible II, Wall Street Journal editorial

Wall Street Journal
March 2, 1988

REVIEW & OUTLOOK (Editorial)

Arizona Governor Evan Mecham’s impeachment trial is in its fourth week, and one senator says only a miracle could prevent a conviction. Next month, the governor faces a criminal trial for campaign-disclosure violations. And on May 17 a recall election will be held. Our position on the Mecham affair is simple: We support the recall election; the rest is an anti-democratic circus. We now discover that even in Arizona, there is support for our view.

Carolyn Warner, the Democrat who lost to Mr. Mecham in 1986 and who is running in the recall election, calls some of the tactics of Mecham opponents “unfair and morally wrong.” She told us during a visit last week that the process “smacks of frontier justice.” And she says legal minds exist in Arizona who don’t believe Mr. Mecham will be convicted on the criminal charge of concealing a campaign loan.

Tom Fitzpatrick, a columnist for the liberal New Times paper, also smells a rat. “I’m getting the uncomfortable feeling that there are people who want to take (the recall) election away from us,” he writes. “They’ve moved Rose Mofford into the governor’s office (as acting governor). It is as though she were elected by a million-vote advantage over her closest foe. Clearly, it’s going to take dynamite to get her out.”

Other Mecham critics want him recalled but nonetheless worry that the political process is being used to remove him before voters have their say. The state ACLU maintains that since Mr. Mecham is out of office pending the outcome of the Senate trial there is no legal need to rush the proceedings.

Says ACLU lawyer Alice Bendheim, “He was only given three weeks to prepare for the Senate trial, and acting before the criminal trial makes it very difficult to get an unbiased jury.” Democrat Gary Peter Klahr, an ACLU official and former Phoenix city councilman, calls the Senate charges against Mr. Mecham “flaky”.

Mr. Mecham is charged with concealing a $350,000 loan to his campaign, raising money for an inaugural fund from private sources and then lending it to his business, and not actively cooperating with an inquiry into what could be construed as a death threat against one of his aides. “If the Senate convicts, it will be for political reasons and not criminal ones,” he says. “Some people want him out now and don’t care about the methods.”

Mrs. Warner herself may now be the target of some of the same people who want Mr. Mecham’s scalp in order to install their own choice as the permanent governor. Last week it was reported that Mrs. Warner had also failed to properly list the source of a $200,000 personal loan on a financial-disclosure statement. “Many Democrats don’t want her in the race,” says a state GOP official. “Campaign-disclosure laws are an easy way to trip up a candidate.”

If only A.J. Liebling were alive to make sense of all this. National press coverage has focused almost exclusively on the beleaguered Mr. Mecham, but it seems clear that his story is merely one piece of a political desert teeming with curious life. Mecham backers, for instance, say he is being run out of office by something called the “Phoenix 40,” an elite group of business and media leaders.

No doubt it’s all providing the people of Arizona with quite a spectacle. We’d feel more comfortable, however, if there were more reason to believe that the state’s political elites are committed to leaving Evan Mecham to the judgment of Arizona’s voters.