November 24, 1987
By Doug MacEachern
The Mesa Tribune
SANTA FE, N.M. — Even in testy silence, Gov. Evan Mecham is far and away the hit of the Republican Governors Conference.
The GOP governors wish it wasn’t so. Mecham’s “steamed” press secretary, who mysteriously disappeared from the event hours after driving here from Phoenix, wishes that. And, heaven knows, Mecham is clambering away from the spotlight.
But Evan is it. He is a national issue whether he likes it or not. Even a bizarre, heavy-handed attempt by press aide Ken Smith to blame the Arizona media — again — for the country’s growing fixation on the governor couldn’t deflect it.
Certainly the tenor of the GOP gathering hasn’t deflected attention from Mecham.
Fifty journalists from across the country followed their governors to this artist enclave at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. One quick browse through the conference agenda, filled with essentially academic exercises like “The Vision of the United States in the World Economy,” and their radar homed automatically onto Mecham.
Despite a quiet refusal by Mecham to comment on his troubles, national news stories originating from the conference have pinpointed him, most noting that his imminent recall and other problems have thrust a pall on the gathering.
Other governors have attempted, without much luck, to downplay the significance of the issues surrounding the quiet man from Arizona.
“Obviously that’s entirely an internal problem,” said Gov. Robert Orr of Indiana. “I have no rights or privilege to make any observations about it.”
Texan William Clements — a hot topic himself for his part in a football scandal regarding Southern Methodist University — conceded he had a long chat with Mecham. About cars.
“I had a good visit with him,” said the boisterous, burly Clements. The words “recall” and “impeachment,” he said, “never came up.”
New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who faced off the first-and-only controversy of the meeting, said he talked with Mecham only “about his family.”
Two days before the conference even began — before Mecham was even there — Kean, the association’s chairman, fielded a question from a San Diego Union reporter.
It was, of course, about Mecham. “I understand that Gov. Mecham is going to ask the governors to help him out. What will be your response to that question?”
A San Diego writer asked that, mind you. An out-of-state journalist.
Press aide Smith, who had just driven into town Saturday night, was livid that such a question was asked. “I’m steamed,” he repeated several times. He called the question “irresponsible” and clearly indicated — without actually saying so — that Arizona writers were the source of the “rumor.”
He refused to accept a first-hand account of the San Diego journalist’s query. “Yeah? I doubt that,” he said.
Then he trundled off and drove back to Phoenix, which he had just left hours earlier. His decision to leave apparently was a move to completely sever any access to the governor, even through his secretary.
That Smith should lose his temper over any reporter asking a question — regardless of where he is from — is baffling. What’s more, he has simply raised the visibility” of an innocuous question by making such a stink of it. “Rumor” or no, the national press had Mecham dripping from its lips in Santa Fe.
Mecham, meanwhile, has stoically attended to the matters of the conference. “I’m focusing all my attention to the podium,” is all he would say.”
He asked a federal economist about the exchange value among the Japanese yen and the U.S; and Taiwanese dollars. Things Oriental, of late, are Mecham’s favorite topics.
And, in an awkwardly constructed round-table on the future of the Republican Party, a moderator asked the governors for their assessments of the complexion of today’s GOP.
“Without getting into details,” Mecham offered, “I would say we have a moral agenda.”
Quite as expected, his few words set the national news crowd to buzzing.