Evan Mecham : biography
Evan Mecham (May 12, 1924 – February 21, 2008) was the 17th Governor of Arizona. A decorated veteran of World War II, Mecham earned his living as an automotive dealership owner and occasional newspaper publisher. Periodic runs for political office earned him a reputation as a perennial candidate along with the nickname of "The Harold Stassen of Arizona" before he was elected governor, under the Republican banner.Johnson, p. 38. As governor, Mecham was plagued by controversy and became the first U.S. governor to simultaneously face removal from office through impeachment, a scheduled recall election, and a felony indictment.Watkins, p. 11. He was the first Arizona governor to be impeached.
Mecham served one term as a state senator before beginning a string of unsuccessful runs for public office. His victory during the 1986 election began with a surprise win of the Republican nomination, followed by a split of the Democratic party during the general election, resulting in a 3-way race. While governor, Mecham became known for statements and actions that were widely perceived as insensitive to minorities.Johnson, p. 36. Among these actions were the cancellation of the state’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, attributing high divorce rates to working women, and his defense of the word "pickaninny", in describing African American children. In reaction to these events, a boycott of Arizona was organized, damaging the state’s tourism industry by the cancellation of multiple conventions. A rift between the governor and fellow Republicans in the Arizona Legislature developed after a series of questionable political appointments prompted accusations of cronyism against the governor.
Having served from January 6, 1987, to April 4, 1988, Mecham was removed from office following conviction in his impeachment trial of charges of the obstruction of justice and the misuse of government funds. A later criminal trial acquitted Mecham of related charges. Following his removal from office, Mecham remained active in politics for nearly a decade. During this time, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and made his final runs for Governor and for the U.S. Senate.
Mecham was inaugurated on January 6, 1987. Among his successes were the opening of a trade office in Taiwan that allowed for a $63 million cotton export contract and strengthening drug abuse prevention efforts through legislation allowing the governor to appoint pro tem judges to deal with drug-related issues. The governor also spearheaded an effort within the National Governor’s Association to raise the speed limit on rural highways from 55 mph (90 km/h) to 65 mph (105 km/h) and supported a legislative bill to prevent takeover of Arizona businesses. During Mecham’s term of office, a $157 million budget deficit was eliminated by reductions in state spending.Watkins, pp. 114–115.
Despite these accomplishments, Mecham faced difficulties during much of his term. Because he had run as a political outsider, other Republicans only had party loyalty as a reason to follow the new governor. This lack of strong loyalty made it easy for his support to fall as a series of political gaffes damaged Mecham’s popularity.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Evan Mecham gained national attention several days after inauguration by fulfilling his campaign promise to cancel a paid Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday (MLK Day) for state employees. The holiday had been created in May 1986 by executive order from the previous governor, Bruce Babbitt, after the state legislature had voted not to create the holiday. Following the creation of the holiday, the state Attorney General’s office issued an opinion that the paid holiday was illegal and threatened to sue the incoming governor over the cost of the paid holiday, as it had not been approved by the legislature. Despite the issues of the legality of how the holiday was created, Mecham replied to comments from civil rights activists and the black community after the cancellation by saying "King doesn’t deserve a holiday." This was followed by him telling a group of black community leaders, "You folks don’t need another holiday. What you folks need are jobs."Watkins, pp. 62–63, 65.