GOP leaders hope new aide helps Mecham mend news fences

September 11, 1987

The Arizona Republic

kvs200Republican leaders expressed hope Thursday that Gov. Evan Mecham’s hiring of a new press aide will be a turning point in his battles with the press.

But some said they doubt that the move will have a marked effect on his administration.

Mecham tapped Californian Kenneth V. Smith to be his special ‘assistant for public affairs, a new job that will pay $62,500 a year. Smith replaces press secretary Ron Bellus, who earns $46,000 and who will take an undisclosed position.

“Mr. Smith’s credentials sound very impressive, and if his appointment will help improve the governor’s image, I’ll be very pleased,” said Rep. Chris Herstam, a north Phoenix Republican. “However, the governor’s press relations is just one of many areas of his administration that need improvements.”

Herstam declined to be more specific, but his comments were echoed by other GOP leaders. Senate Majority Leader Bob Usdane, R-Scottsdale, said that he hopes the new press aide will help improve Mecham’s image, but cautioned that he expects the governor to continue to be outspoken.

“I don’t think that solves all the problems,” Usdane said. “I think the governor’s his own person, and he tends to say what he wants to say. Those are the kinds of things that help get him in trouble.”

Sen. Greg Lunn, R-Tucson, who has denounced Mecham, said he expects little change.

“The press secretary’s not the problem,” Lunn said.

But state GOP Chairman Burt Kruglick said he thinks Mecham has made a wise decision.

“I’m optimistic about the new press secretary and I believe it can make a difference in dealing with the press,” Kruglick said. “I think Ron Bellus is a nice guy, but it was time to make a change in that position.”

Mecham’s handlers have been striving for weeks to shape a new image for him, and they hope the addition of Smith will help deflect some of the intense press coverage of the controversial governor.

Lawmakers and others had urged Mecham to replace Bellus, who was with the governor since the campaign, and find a press aide with more experience in news.

Smith, a 46-year-old Republican, has been director of public affairs for the County Supervisors Association of California since 1984. He previously worked in newspapers as a reporter, editor and publisher.

Smith, a close friend of President Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, said he was introduced to the governor about three weeks ago by Maureen Reagan’s husband, Dennis Revelle.

Smith said he discussed the move with associates before deciding to take the job because of the controversy over Mecham and the movement to recall the governor.

“Certainly, I thought about it,” he said. “I talked to a lot of people. I’m not worried about it.” Smith added that he likes Mecham personally and that the new job “looks exciting.”

His position as a special assistant will make him one of: Mecham’s close advisers. Lawmakers and others have speculated that part of Bellus’ difficulty in providing information to reporters stemmed partly from the fact that he was not part of Mecham’s inner circle.

Smith is expected to start the job in about two weeks, and part of his duties will include at focus on attracting high-technology firms to Arizona. He also will concentrate on generating news stories about Arizona that will help the state’s bid to win the super-collider project, a $4.4 billion atom smasher.

Smith has a master’s degree in public administration, a master’s in journalism and a bachelor’s degree in sociology.