By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
You subscribe to a newspaper, but it never arrives.
You're upset and want your money back, right?
Likely not, if you happen to be one of the "charter subscribers" to Evan Mecham's would-be newspaper, Arizona News Day.
Originally slated to go to press in September 1991, the "newspaper" has taken several backward steps and seems even further away from being published than it was a year ago.
What has happened to the subscription money people sent in? Is it in a bank account somewhere? "You've got to be kidding," Mecham tells New Times from his Senate campaign headquarters. (The phone for his newspaper has been disconnected.) "It's spent. I've spent the money in trying to get the paper going." He adds that he's spent his own money as well.
The former Glendale car dealer was impeached and booted out of the Governor's Office in 1988 after little more than a year on the job. Along the way, Mecham weathered criminal indictments and a spirited recall campaign, racking up a career's worth of disputed loans, court suits, gaffes, goofs, insults and racial slurs.
Today the former governor won't divulge the names of the paper's would-be subscribers or how much money he got from them. He says such information is "confidential." But New Timeshas obtained a list of contributors that indicates at least 650 people sent in at least $44,000 to the former governor.
Interviews with two dozen of these subscribers--a random but unscientific sample--indicate that many not only haven't demanded refunds but still strongly support Mecham and eagerly back his attempt to get on the November 3 ballot as an independent against GOP incumbent Senator John McCain.
Last year, a New Timesreporter went undercover to infiltrate Mecham's "newspaper staff" and discovered little more than a small group of telemarketers conducting a fund-raising blitzkrieg aimed at Mecham's loyalists, whom the governor refers to as "the good people" of Arizona. (See the July 31, 1991, issue.)
The telemarketing apparently worked. (Mecham was offering a two-year subscription for $100, or one year for $60, and promised subscribers "free advertising" and "charter subscription certificates." He also pushed "installment plans" allowing for smaller payments.) Even elderly Arizonans who could barely scrape together money from their pensions to send Mecham tell New Timesthey're not angry about not receiving the paper. According to the subscription records, many of Mecham's subscribers apologized to him in writing for not being able to send more money to him or for being "late" with their money. The records also indicate that some of Mecham's subscribers were so feeble that they could barely fill in the blanks.
But many of Mecham's subscribers are just as loyal to him as they were before they sent their payments to him.
"I'm miffed about the paper, but I'm sure he can't have his finger on the pulse of everything," says LaVerne Smith of Saint David, a small town east of Tucson. "You can't tell me anything bad about Brother Mecham. He looks you right in the eye when he talks to you. We think a lot of that man."
Not all are as ardent as LaVerne Smith, who pointed out that the former governor, a Mormon, has lots of support among Mormons like herself. "He'll get a lot of people's votes here, especially the LDS," she says. "He's a good man, no matter what they say about him."
Several subscribers say they support Mecham because he'll "stir things up" or they hate the other newspapers; or because they hate all incumbent politicians or they're simply fed up "with the way things are." In some cases, it's expressed as inchoate rage. "The whole world's gone amok," claims one subscriber.
Others, however, are far more thoughtful and are in fact philosophical about Mecham's venture.
"We don't feel like we've been ripped off," says Nancy Kress, 40, of Glendale. On her subscription blank, Kress had written: "I can't seem to put together $100 at a time this summer so I'm sending the $60 for one year."
She's not sorry she sent the money. "I knew there was a possibility it wouldn't come about," she says. "I was showing support for an alternative. I believe Evan Mecham will do the best he can."
Kress, a former GOP precinct committeewoman, says she's passing out petitions for Mecham's bid to get on the ballot against McCain. (She voted in the September 8 primary, however, and thus can't sign a petition.)
"I hesitate to say I'm a supporter of Mecham's," says Kress. "Because he's an outrageous character, if you say you're a supporter, they call you a fanatic. They'll think 'pickaninny' is a common word in our household--which it is not."
Kress says she likes Mecham because she thinks he believes in "traditional family values" and less government.
"Yes, we need police protection, but do we need pottery along the Squaw Peak?" she asks rhetorically. "Yes, we need a fire department, but do we need fireworks? The government spends money and does things it shouldn't be doing."
Kress acknowledges that "there are all sorts of bad feelings toward him as a person." But, she says, "who else is standing up for what he stands up for?"