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Mecham, Under Indictment, Opens Legislative Session With Apologetic Speech

January 12, 1988

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ Gov. Evan Mecham gave the Legislature an apologetic speech three days after his indictment, but received little solace when a sparse crowd showed up for a reception afterward.

The guards outnumbered the guests by the time Mecham took his wife, Florence, in his arms for a dance around the floor of his executive tower at the Capitol on Monday evening.

″At his inaugural, the governor danced all night,″ aide Albert Gutier said after the Mechams completed their one dance and left.

A four-piece band was playing, but only one other couple was dancing alongside the Mechams. Gutier estimated that 100 people showed up, many only briefly, but barely a dent was made on the platters of fruit, raw vegetables and sandwiches when the reception had ended.

The reception was for the 90 members of the Legislature, which opened its 1988 session Monday, along with their staffs, lobbyists, reporters and other capital insiders. Gutier said 42 lawmakers showed up.

″It was very tense,″ said Rep. Karen English, a Democrat.

It was the same floor where, three days before, the embattled Republican governor told a horde of reporters he was ″completely clean″ despite his indictment on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan.

The walls, traditionally used to display art, were decorated with children’s pictures honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this month. Mecham gained international attention a year ago when he rescinded a King holiday for state workers.

Mecham, who took office in January 1987, opened this year’s legislative session Monday with a State of the State speech in which he referred to his legal problems only indirectly.

″I know that mistakes were made during my first year in office,″ he said, adding that if he could do it over, he would have consulted legislative leaders more closely on his appointments.

Mecham stirred controversy last year with appointees who had legal problems, as well as with his own comments defending the word ″pickaninny″ in a reference to blacks, saying working women cause divorce and that homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle.

″While this has often been a year of noisy sensationalism, it has also been a year of quiet achievements for the state of Arizona,″ Mecham said in his speech.

The state government is functioning well, the governor said, and ″my present difficulties will not interfere in any way with the operation of the executive branch.″

Mecham outlined a list of accomplishments, including the establishment of a state economic development in office in Taiwan and Arizona’s inclusion on the short list of sites for a federal superconducting supercollider, a project that would bring the jobs.

Mecham received polite applause before and after the speech even though fellow Republicans have called for his resignation and the House is awaiting a recommendation Friday from a special counsel on whether to impeach the governor.

″I suspect his days are numbered,″ said Sen. Greg Lunn, a Republican, who called the governor’s speech ″an exercise in irrelevance.″

″I just feel it’s too late,″ said House Majority Whip Jane Hull, also a Republican.

Mecham was indicted Friday on six felony charges accusing him of fraud, perjury and filing false documents for failing to report the $350,000 campaign loan. He faces a likely recall election in May, and would be automatically removed from office if convicted on any count.

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