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MECHAM GOES NOT SO GENTLY INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT

Some scenes cling to your mind. They are so powerful that they are impossible to block out. For me, there will always be that remarkable television footage of an enraged Evan Mecham pounding his little fist on the counter at the secretary of state's office. "You have a Martin Luther King Day!" Mecham shouts. Then he shouts it again. Then again, until you begin to wince. The crowd around Mecham stares at him in disbelief. Some recoil. We are all witnessing an emotional breakdown. It is a raw and climactic moment in a man's public life. If you were doing Mecham's life as a film, this scene played out at the secretary of state's office would be saved for the final minutes. It is a classic of its kind. It tells us all we need to know about Mecham, the candidate whom time has passed by. Great films have one thing in common: They all have memorable scenes when the leading character has an emotional breakdown. You have the sense that things will never be the same. In Chinatown, a broken Jack Nicholson is led away from the street where his girlfriend has been gunned down. You realize the police will do nothing about the shooting. "Come on, Jake," a friend says. "Forget about it. This is Chinatown." A scene in Sunset Boulevard, which features Gloria Swanson as an aging and forgotten movie star, comes even closer to the Mecham story. Swanson has murdered her boyfriend, played by William Holden. His dead body floats in her swimming pool. Almost catatonic, Swanson is led past the cameras and reporters. Her demented mind tells her she is really walking past her beloved fans. She smiles and nods at them, clearly ready and all too willing to sign autographs on her way to the squad car. I thought of Mecham's performance in that way as his panicked supporters led the former governor gently away from the television cameras the other day. Clearly, his performance had been a disaster. No one else in public life could come back from such an embarrassing disaster. Not for the first time, I felt sorry for him. At his age, there will be no coming back. He now must learn to live with the idea that those brief months he had in the governor's office will never be repeated. A political figure can bounce back from almost any setback if he maintains his public composure. Voters will forgive a candidate almost anything if they want to elect him to office. But the one thing they can't stand is to be embarrassed. Unfortunately for Mecham, that's what he did to his followers the other day. He showed them a man who was out of control in a situation that cried out for a calm exterior. Until that moment, I didn't realize what a great blow the impeachment process must have been to Mecham. I must give him credit for the jaunty exterior he has managed to display while Governor Rose Mofford has been signing proclamations and throwing out first baseballs. All the time he has been smiling, it clearly has hurt him deeply inside. Mecham will go down as the man who canceled the Martin Luther King holiday. Many will call him a racist for that. But Mecham doesn't deserve all the blame. Let's face the fact that this is a state in which a majority of the population remains frightened of blacks. I think Mecham's petition drive to have the holiday rescinded will succeed. I don't think the vote will even be close. The holiday issue will be scuttled once more. Where is the joy in the King Day this legislature has given us? The lawmakers were prodded into it by the business community, which fears the loss of the Super Bowl and a general loss of tourist business. Many of those Senate and House members who voted for the King bill did so only because they know it will be overturned by the voters in November's election. Arizona's dirty little secret will become a matter for national revulsion. Listen to the talk shows and hear the real voice of the people as they bluster under the cover of anonymity. Voters are as close to passing a Martin Luther King Day here in Arizona as they are in South Africa. These days, Mecham's life seems to jump from one great movie scene to another. This following one is reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara's scene that takes place just before intermission in Gone With the Wind. The Southerners have burned down Atlanta so that the Yankees will have nothing of value to capture when they arrive. Scarlett returns to her home at Tara, which remains intact. But the slaves have fled and she must run the huge plantation alone. Scarlett stands on a hill. She is in a rage. "I will lie, cheat, steal or kill, but I will never be hungry again!" she shouts. "As God is my witness!" In recent weeks, there have been two attempts to burn down Mecham's headquarters in the 8800 block of North 61st Avenue in Glendale. The other day, Mecham and Max Hawkins stood outside surveying the damage to the 7,300-square-foot building which used to be Mecham's home. There is a $460,000 mortgage, and federal banking authorities are threatening a foreclosure sale. Evan Mecham is clearly being pushed to the wall. Imagine this scene in The Ev Mecham Story. "They're trying to burn us down, Evan," the ever-faithful Hawkins says as they stand outside the Mecham headquarters. "But why," Mecham asks, seeming a little dazed. "They already have their Martin Luther King Day, don't they?" And another lingering question remains. Who is trying to burn Ev Mecham's headquarters down?

WHERE COTTON IS KING ... v5-23-90