News

Where Are They Now?

Has it been only one year since Evan Mecham was booted out of the governor's office? Here's a look at some of the key characters in Arizona's most spectacular political drama:

DONNA CARLSON
THEN: The former GOP legislator became an executive assistant to Mecham upon his election in November 1986, but she quit in the fall of 1987. Carlson was one of fourteen people who signed notes pledging to pay back a $350,000 campaign loan to Mecham from Tempe attorney Barry Wolfson. She became a real star in the drama a short time later when she was warned by her friend Peggy Griffith that Mecham aide Lee Watkins threatened to send Carlson on a "long boat ride" if she didn't shut up about what she knew about the governor's office.

NOW: In July 1988, Carlson moved to California and became director of economic development for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, where she lives on top of a hill with a 360-degree view and is dating a "blond German drummer from Orange County." "Once in a while, I'll ask friends back in Arizona what's going on and then I wish I hadn't," she says. "It looks like the chaos still is going on."

LEE WATKINS
THEN: Watkins, who once served prison time for a postal robbery, was Mecham's chief of prison construction. He was forced to resign in early '87 amid allegations that he was a thug. He steadfastly maintained he'd never threatened Carlson.

NOW: "I couldn't get a job at a car wash," Watkins recalls. "No one would touch me." Finally, last June, a friend hired him to manage Roberts Towing in Mesa, where he says he works seventy to eighty hours a week. Watkins claims legal bills of $30,000. A spat with his wife became public last year, and he filed for divorce in September.

PEGGY GRIFFITH
THEN: A long-time Republican precinct worker, Griffith was Mecham's director of women's services. A friendly, hug-ya type of woman, she recounted with horror the chance meeting with Watkins in a parking lot where the alleged threat against Carlson was made. Griffith told her husband about it (Ron Griffith is an officer with the Department of Public Safety) and also reported it to Frank Martinez and Beau Johnson, the DPS officers guarding the governor. The DPS officers told their supervisors, who in turn told the Attorney General's Office.

NOW: Griffith is executive director of the Arizona Drug Abuse Program, a nonprofit, private agency. Ron Griffith inspects tow trucks as part of his job with DPS and now and then has reason to talk to Lee Watkins.

FRANK MARTINEZ
THEN: Mecham bounced him from his bodyguard post in the fall of '87 when he discovered Martinez had relayed Griffith's story to superiors.

NOW: Martinez was immediately reassigned to the governor's office when the House of Representatives impeached Mecham on February 5, 1988, and Rose Mofford became acting governor. In the past year, he married and fathered a boy. He still guards Mofford.

BEAU JOHNSON
THEN: Johnson also was bounced by Mecham after the Watkins incident.

NOW: Johnson was loaned by DPS to Eloy, where he was interim chief of police from June '88 to December. He returned to Phoenix as executive officer for the DPS director's office and was promoted to captain in January. In July, he'll assume command of the Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy in Tucson. Johnson was the Fraternal Order of Police DPS Officer of the Year for 1988.

SAM STEIGER
THEN: A former legislator, congressman and Libertarian candidate for governor, the irascible Steiger was one of Mecham's original executive assistants. He resigned after being accused of threatening a member of the state parole board with the loss of his job if the member didn't vote Steiger's way.

NOW: Steiger was convicted of the extortion charge but was not sentenced to prison. The verdict is on appeal. Needing money--he racked up some $100,000 in legal fees--Steiger toyed with a plan to import crocodile meat from Australia but never got it off the ground. For nine months, he hosted a talk show on KOY radio. He now is a partner in International Communications, a company that manufactures and distributes wireless cable equipment.

JOE LANE
THEN: House Speaker Lane, a Willcox Republican, formed the committee to investigate allegations against Mecham and then voted to impeach the governor. He was the biggest spender in the fall '88 primaries, but Mecham's supporters, called "Evanistas" in some quarters, trounced him and several other Republicans.

NOW: Lane moved to Phoenix, where he's a political strategist with the consulting firm Jamieson and Gutierrez. He says he has no regrets: "We did our duty even though it cost us our political lives." Lane's Cochise County home still is for sale.

SAM STANTON
THEN: The statehouse reporter for the Arizona Republic broke most of the stories that led to Mecham's impeachment. Mecham also gave Stanton a moment of national fame when he shook his finger in Stanton's face and accused the reporter of calling him a liar.

NOW: Stanton was a finalist for Arizona Journalist of the Year for his coverage of Mecham. He is about to move to Washington, D.C., where he'll continue to work for the Republic.

FRANK X. GORDON
THEN: As chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Gordon presided over the televised impeachment trial.

NOW: Gordon, who became a popular after-dinner speaker, flirted with the idea of running for governor. But he recently announced he would not oppose Mofford.

BARRY WOLFSON
THEN: His $350,000 campaign loan to Mecham in the fall of '86 was revealed in the fall of '87 and sparked the House investigation into Mecham. Wolfson was able to make such a sizable loan because he specialized in industrial- development-bond projects--he claims to have made $6.5 million net in 1984.

NOW: Wolfson still practices law, but none of it having to do with industrial-development bonds, which landed him in trouble with state and federal officials. Last year, he printed and sold 2,500 copies of The Arizona Project, a revised version of a book about the 1976 murder of reporter Don Bolles. Wolfson still has 6,000 copies of The World According to Evan Mecham, a jokebook he published in late '87. "I can't imagine anybody would be interested in it," he says. Much of Wolfson's time is taken up by trying to extricate himself from legal problems over his bond work. These days, his law practice is mostly commercial litigation. "It's a living, but it's boring," he says. "I'd like to do political journalism." To reach his Tempe office, dial T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

EVAN MECHAM
THEN: Mecham was elected governor in a three-way race in '86, but opponents mounted a recall campaign almost immediately. A recall election was canceled when the Senate convicted him on April 4, 1988.

NOW: Shortly after Mecham's ouster, he sold his ailing Pontiac dealership in Glendale. In June, Mecham and his brother Willard were acquitted of criminal charges over the Wolfson campaign loan. The Evanistas have taken over leadership of the state GOP. Tuesday night, the anniversary of his conviction, Mecham was expected to announce he'll be a Republican candidate for governor in 1990.

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.