Who Wants a Lap-Dog Press? Your Gov

Rose Mofford wants a capitol press corps that will sit up, roll over and play dead.

And those who refuse to play good little lap dogs? She has unilaterally decided that she won't consider them reporters. Right now she's got two on her version of the "nonperson" list made so memorable by ousted Governor Evan Mecham: Larry Lopez of the Associated Press and me.

The governor, who has spent the last year avoiding the press--and avoiding saying anything meaningful--is accelerating her campaign to guarantee only good news about her administration. Her press aide Vada Manager announced last Thursday at a meeting with the media that Mofford intends to exercise veto power over who is designated by the capitol press corps as a "pool" reporter to cover her when she goes on out-of-town trips. Manager said "it is unlikely" the governor would allow Lopez or me to fly with her.

The idea of the pool is nothing unique. Public officials across the nation, from the president on down, will ask the press to designate a single person to cover trips where there is only limited seating. The pool reporter then files a report which all other reporters can use.

Mofford flies around the state in a small, twin-engine plane owned by the Department of Public Safety. She says she's willing to take reporters along--as long as she gets to choose who goes and who doesn't, a power not even exercised by the president.

By Monday morning, Phoenix radio stations were reporting on the governor's new policy and were running angry responses from New Times editor Jana Bommersbach, who blasted the governor for having such little regard for freedom of the press. The governor, who was clearly unprepared for the public outcry, cornered KTAR reporter Bob Scott Monday morning. Scott had run the first report on the policy. "Vada Manager does not speak for Rose Mofford," she told Scott.

By Monday afternoon, the $62,500-a-year Manager was meeting with the press to "clarify" the policy, decrying "the nonsense about issuing a directive or ban." As Manager told my boss, "There has not been a ban." But when asked to elaborate, he again admitted Mofford wants to exercise veto power over the press: "If the press nominates Howie [for the press pool], I'll go to the governor and it's up to her. The governor has to make that choice, yes or no." She's hated Lopez since she first got into office, since he wrote how she had violated state financial disclosure laws by failing to list property she owns. Lopez also had the temerity to point out that Mofford argued she didn't really understand what had to be listed on the forms despite the fact that, as secretary of state, she was in charge of reviewing such forms from all state officials.

Lopez also dug up the fact Mofford, as secretary of state, spent more than $50,000 of state funds on gifts for various visiting dignitaries despite repeated claims over the years that the money for these gewgaws came out of her own pocket. Out-of-state journalists last year considered his efforts valuable enough to name Lopez one of three finalists for Arizona's Journalist of the Year.

Mofford has made no secret she's unhappy with New Times coverage of her activities--or, more specifically, her lack of activity--since she became governor. Several times we've printed stories noting how the Empress Wears No Clothes: That her major activities are ribbon cutting, glad-handing and attending Cactus League baseball games; that she's unable to think on her feet when asked about policy issues; and that she's been clumsy in dealing with legislative leaders, including those of her own party. Manager insisted, however, that it's not a question of bad coverage from this paper. Instead, he argues, I'm not properly respectful.

For example, Mofford didn't like being questioned about her position on an income tax windfall being debated by the legislature earlier this year. I repeatedly asked if she wanted the money returned to taxpayers or put into the general fund to balance the budget. Other reporters were asking the same question. In the space of five minutes, she flip-flopped three times on where she stood. With the governor clearly befuddled, Manager backed her into the elevator at the state capitol. I kept trying to get a clear answer and yet again, she waffled. "Governor, that's no answer," I told her as the elevator doors were closing.

Manager also was visibly angry that I once asked--using the title given the governor by a doctor who serves on her medical malpractice committee--how the "Great White Mother" was that day.

For the last year, Mofford has refused all requests by New Times for interviews. That has forced me to corner her at public functions to get responses on various state issues. Mofford doesn't like that either, and at times has been clearly miffed at being forced to respond to questions she doesn't want asked.