Mecham's Final Strategy: Attack! Attack! Attack!

I was driving to Evan Mecham's Supreme Court hearing.
A newscaster's voice on the radio said: "The scene at St. Croix after Hurricane Hugo is described as near anarchy. Troops sent there to restore order have been told to shoot if necessary to defend themselves." The Arizona State Legislature was about to pass the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday bill. At the state Supreme Court, located on the second floor of the building which houses the governor's office, people were lined up for Mecham's hearing.

People were assaulting the talk radio shows. On KTAR, a woman shouted:

"Every time you turn over a rock, there he is. Let's bring him back and this time let's try him for treason." Another woman, a Mecham supporter, said just as fervently:

"The Catholics put in their own governor. I'm told she's had two abortions herself." Preston Westmoreland, the talk-show host, said nothing. He seemed stunned.

Walking through the capitol mall, I saw only a few demonstrators supporting Mecham. There were no signs about the Martin Luther King holiday.

The Mecham signs were mild.
"Governor Mecham Is Right," said one. "Who Elected Mofford?" asked another.

I knew the hearing would be on television later that night, but I wanted to see the event live. There are always so many fascinating underlying tensions attached to a Supreme Court hearing that the cameras don't catch.

For one thing, the justices always take themselves more seriously than the issues that confront them.

This excludes Justice Duke Cameron. Often, Cameron appears to be fighting the need for a nap.

Justice Stanley Feldman is always the central figure. Feldman's quick mind dominates both his fellow justices and the lawyers who argue before him. Feldman's friends insist that in real life he's shy, even reticent. One wonders what happens to that side of him when he puts on his black robe. I reached the courtroom fifteen minutes before the hearing began. There were a few seats remaining but I had plenty of time to look around the court.

I spotted Mecham in the front row. Max Hawkins, his right-hand man, was directly behind his old boss in the second row.

John Kolbe, the Phoenix Gazette columnist whom Mecham once labeled a nonperson, entered just before the justices mounted the bench. Kolbe took a seat on the opposite side of the courtroom from Mecham.

Larry Lopez of the Associated Press had also clashed frequently with Mecham. He was in a rear row.

Michael Lacey, the New Times executive editor, was there, too. Lacey had aroused Mecham by writing a satiric column that was widely misunderstood to call for Mecham's assassination. Leon Woodward, who has been harassed by the Department of Public Safety for his ardent support of Mecham, was a few rows behind Kolbe.

Ed Buck, who led the Mecham recall drive, was one of the last to enter the court. Buck wore a blue oxford cloth shirt, Levi's and a red tie. He stood against the rear wall.

For just one more time, they were all together again. I was reminded of something George Bernard Shaw once said: "If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, make it dance." The final dance was about to begin.

The fires have cooled. All these old enemies are now able to look at each other without an eruption of scalding anger.

The ex-governor was looking for a miracle. The others shared a moment in history with him and they felt compelled to see the circle being closed. Late in the morning the word came over the radio that Sam Steiger's conviction had been overturned by the Court of Appeals.

Wherever you turned people asked, "Did you hear about Sam? He won his appeal." Everyone smiled as they talked about it.

Steiger, five times an elected congressman, had been the most memorable witness in the impeachment hearings. He was fearless, irascible, witty and sometimes even brilliant. As always, he was self-denigrating and willing to play it for laughs.

Asked about Attorney General Bob Corbin, he replied without hesitation:
"Mr. Corbin is not very bright, but he is an effective politician. He has deluded you into believing that he is a competent person." Corbin had reached out to get Mecham, but the only one he succeeded in convicting was Steiger. The appeals court has now ruled that was a fluke.

So Corbin's record in office continues its amazing path. He has accomplished no major prosecutions and will leave with a pocketful of Charles Keating's money. Corbin refuses to return the money, insisting that he (Corbin) has done nothing wrong.

Does that tell you something about Corbin and Keating? No, it tells you only about money.

As Gertrude Stein once said, "Money is always there, but the pockets change. It is not in the same pockets after a change, but that's all there is to say about money." Steiger made the most telling blow against Corbin in giving his final statement before being sentenced.

"I lied to the attorney general," he said dryly, "for the same reason I would to a stickup man in an alley who asked me if I had any money." Nothing said at the Supreme Court hearing was memorable.

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