News

THE MECHAM MENACE

Now it comes down to courage.
This is no time for the summer soldier or the sunshine patriot, as Thomas Paine once wrote.

It's all on the line, now that a suit has been filed to throw former Governor Evan Mecham off the primary ballot.

Dennis Ingram, who signed the papers, certainly has done his share.
So have the people who chipped in to put up the money to get the case before the Arizona Supreme Court.

The only question anyone can have is why did it take them so long to make the move to save us from Mecham.

That was answered in court the other day. There was no sense in trying to get Mecham off the ballot before he had actually showed up with his petitions and formally announced that he was running for governor.

Now everyone acts like it is some terrible thing that Mecham should be denied his chance to run again.

Mecham has had his chance. He was a terrible governor who created chaos while in office and will do so again.

Who are we all kidding? Evan Mecham isn't fit to be a dogcatcher.
I like a joke, too. But I no longer find anything funny about Mecham's antics, prejudices or his overwhelming ignorance.

The Arizona Supreme Court can do the entire state a great service this week by throwing Mecham's name off the ballot.

But no matter how the court decides this week in the case of Evan Mecham, it will earn a niche in Arizona legal history.

We will soon learn if the current members of this court have the iron in their hearts to throw the impeached and convicted former governor off the ballot as they should. Or will they take the easy way and refuse to accept jurisdiction, professing to let the voters decide the issue?

But each member of the court must realize that refusing this landmark case will be nothing less than an act of judicial cowardice.

If the justices pass on this case, it will be because they fear the consequences of halting Mecham's run for governor.

Throwing Mecham off the ballot at this late date will obviously cause a fire storm of protest from his followers.

Nevertheless, this is precisely what the Supreme Court should do.
For years Mecham has preached the same message to his faithful followers at every opportunity: "The Phoenix 40 and the power brokers are out to get me," Mecham says over and over.

Mecham's messianic complex prevents him from recognizing that anyone with an intelligence quotient of better than 65 realizes he doesn't have the temperament to handle the office.

If the Supreme Court rules that Mecham is no longer eligible to seek public office, his followers may take this as hard evidence that Mecham was right about the power brokers.

How will they react?
That's difficult to answer.
The reaction could range from total disillusionment with the political process to an all-out effort to avenge themselves against the Republican candidate perceived to have taken part in the challenge.

Mecham's strength has been estimated to be as high as 30 percent of the electorate. Of that number, there are probably a handful who would gladly take up arms to help the man who once was their governor.

But don't let anyone fool you about this being a difficult or arcane legal matter. From a lawyer's standpoint, this is not a difficult decision.

In fact, it isn't even close.
Mecham clearly is no longer eligible to seek the office of governor in the state of Arizona. And he hasn't been since the majority of the Senate voted his conviction.

Anyone who has read the Arizona Constitution knows this to be true.
None of this is a secret.
Mecham's opponents in the Republican primary have known all along that Mecham might be thrown off the ballot at any time.

But none of them dared to act on the matter because the repercussions would be disastrous.

When Dennis Ingram, a former state highway patrolman, agreed to sign his name to the legal papers, the lion's share of the work was done.

Ingram has been connected to J. Fife Symington III because he signed a Symington petition. This came about by sheer accident. Ingram was in a shopping center one day and obliged a campaign worker who was passing around Symington's petition. Symington had nothing to do with the Mecham challenge and neither did any of the other Republican candidates.

Filing the challenge was an act of courage and commitment on Ingram's part. He is a man who remembers what it was like for Arizona when Mecham was governor and doesn't want to see it happen again.

The problem with filing the challenge has always been that it was necessary to find someone willing to deal with the possible consequences of a suit against Mecham in the heat of the political campaign.

Ingram appears quite willing to live with that.

Here are the fateful words on impeachment as written in the Arizona Constitution and dated November 9, 1910:

"The governor . . . shall be liable to impeachment for high crimes, misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office, but judgment in such cases shall extend only to removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit in the state." Michael J. Meehan, the attorney who filed the brief for Ingram, is an authority on the First Amendment. He was graduated with honors from the University of Arizona law school and was a law clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. He has represented both newspapers and television stations in libel cases. Meehan is clearly one of Arizona's top lawyers.

His 39-page brief is dense with footnotes citing not only the Federalist papers, but also the constitutions of other states on which Arizona's is based.

Attorney Meehan's brief doesn't miss a beat.
Among other things, he cites a ruling issued by a previous Arizona Supreme Court in 1947 in the disqualification of Attorney General John L. Sullivan from office.

At that time, the Supreme Court "made it plain that impeachment in Arizona means mandatory removal from office and mandatory disqualification from holding future office."

According to Meehan, the court decision in that case reads: "Under our constitution, a successful impeachment results in a judgment of removal from office and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit in the state." Meehan also deals with the opinion offered by Bob Corbin, our present attorney general, on April 21 of this year that Mecham is eligible to run. Meehan writes:

"An opinion by the attorney general is advisory only and does not bind a court of law; nor is such an opinion a legal determination of what the law is at any certain time." What Meehan does not say is that Corbin's opinion is based on sheer politics.

Steve Twist, Corbin's right-hand man, is running for the Republican nomination in the attorney general's race. If Corbin had issued an opinion ruling Mecham off the ballot, then Mecham's supporters most certainly would have risen to vote to revenge themselves against Twist in the primary.

Meehan's point, made repeatedly in the brief, is that "the plain language in our state constitution . . . suggests that permanent disqualification is a mandatory part of the punishment for a public official convicted of an impeachable offense." As Meehan writes:

"There is simply nothing ambiguous in the plain language of the judgment clause in the Arizona Constitution. It means exactly what it says."

When Evan Mecham was convicted by the Arizona Senate, he was automatically disqualified from ever holding office again.

But this is not a perfect world. You can't expect the Supreme Court to act simply because it is the right thing to do.

The justices may well take the easy way out.
This is what the Arizona Republic has urged them to do in a hastily written editorial that makes little or no sense.

One wonders what happened to the newspaper that used to refer to Governor Mecham as the man who was "running a brutal juggernaut." Should the court decide to avoid this challenge, its members will have to be fairly clever about dodging their duty.

I wonder how they can get around this one crystal-clear fact:
Evan Mecham is not eligible to run for governor.
Not now.
Not ever again.

Ingram remembers what it was like for Arizona when Mecham was governor and doesn't want to see it happen again.

None of Mecham's Republican opponents has dared to act because the repercussions would be disastrous.

When Evan Mecham was convicted by the Arizona Senate, he was automatically disqualified from holding office again.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Fitzpatrick