Evan Mecham was back. And even though he still sported that same crooked grin, this was a new Mecham. No longer Arizona's governor, he's in the process of transforming himself into a newspaper publisher.
Mecham stood behind a lectern in a meeting room at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. He looked out upon a sea of faces--all of them reporters and photographers from various news organizations.
They remember him from the old days when he was tempestuous and unpredictable. The new Mecham is a fast-talking, loony con man who is now totally unhampered by any hesitation about scrapping with reporters.
During his days as governor, Mecham's three biggest antagonists in the press corps were Larry Lopez of the Associated Press, John Kolbe of the Phoenix Gazette, and E.J. Montini of the Arizona Republic.
All three were present. Lopez and Kolbe were in the front row, seated next to each other. Montini was in the back of the room.
Lopez has a way of delivering questions in a whining, insinuating manner that once even tempted Rose Mofford to want to pop him one in his ample snoot.
Kolbe glides about under the presumption that because his brother is a congressman that he's a member of some royal family.
Over the years, the Gazette's political columnist has developed all the pompous and bizarre mannerisms of a degenerate, bourbon-belting Southern senator.
This is no doubt why Kolbe makes the perfect political expert for that exquisitely boring Channel 8 news show every Friday night.
Lopez had barely finished asking his first question when Mecham turned on him:
"That's just some of your typical yellow garbage, Larry. Are you here for a story or to tear Mecham down?" Lopez's head shot erect.
"You're just some jerkwater reporter and you think you're so much smarter than you are," Mecham added. "You're arrogant." Lopez was asking Mecham who were the financial backers for his newspaper. It was a legitimate question. I probably should have been on Lopez's side but the sight of these two junkyard dogs going at each other was wonderful to see and hear.
"I'll tell you who my backers are in my time, Larry," Mecham said. "But not now. You don't deserve that." Mecham then growled about Lopez's use of "just another yellow journalism trick" and said something indicating that he was just another "lazy or dishonest reporter talking through a hole in their hat." Kolbe asked the next question, which I couldn't hear from where I was sitting.
All I heard Kolbe say was, "I want to be accurate." Mecham grinned that crooked grin.
"Have you turned over a new leaf, John? Since when have you become a convert to the truth?" he said. Kolbe pressed for an answer.
"I'm not dancing to your tune, John," Mecham said. "I'm not sure you'd recognize the truth if you heard it." What you have to understand is that Mecham's wild shots at both Lopez and Kolbe were greeted by sympathetic laughter from the other reporters. They clearly enjoyed the discomfiture of Mecham's critics.
This was just another example of something I learned a long time ago. Reporters rarely stick up for one another. They are too competitive to put up a united front. They enjoy seeing their competitors thwarted.
When Mecham had finished demolishing Kolbe, Montini raised his hand. When Mecham saw the mustachioed columnist from the Republic, the ex-governor actually smiled.
He didn't wait for Montini to finish his question.
"You'd better not apply to work at my paper because I won't hire you," Mecham said.
Montini, who is a decent sort despite his liberal philosophy, broke into a grin.
"You can't afford me," Montini said, as laughter rolled around the room.
Mecham was right on top of him.
"If I paid you what you're worth, you'd have to pay me to work there," Mecham shot back.
Mecham has always put on a better standup routine than any other politician we have. His problem has never been charisma.
It was only when it got down to his innate bigotry and his tendency to deal with the truth in a cavalier fashion that Mecham's presence as governor created a problem.
What would he know about being a newspaper publisher? Mecham is nothing if not a quick study. And he already knows something very important about the art of being a publisher.
The first rule is to treat all reporters and columnists with both irony and a huge dollop of contempt.
Mecham says he will call his paper Arizona Newsday. It will be a tabloid that will be available only through home delivery.
He already has the presses, which have been acquired from Las Vegas, and promises to have more news about publication start-up time in the near future.
Will it ever actually start up? It depends on how deep the pockets are of Mecham's mysterious backers.
Mecham insists he isn't starting his own paper merely to gain revenge against the Republic and Gazette which drove him out of office.
"We will restore the reader's confidence in the printed word," Mecham insists. "There will be no orders to favor friends or go after supposed enemies." I'll believe that when I see it.
Give the devil his due. Ev Mecham actually does have a finely tuned sense of humor. But he has, over the years, demonstrated only one other dominant characteristic: a passionate desire to get even with his enemies.
Mecham to Larry Lopez: "You're just some jerkwater reporter and you think you're so much smarter than you are."
Mecham to John Kolbe: "Since when have you become a convert to the truth?"
Mecham to E.J. Montini: "You'd better not apply to work at my paper.