PHOENIX — Even before taking office, Republican Gov.-elect Evan Mecham has become embroiled in a dispute over whether Arizona will join other states with a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When Mecham takes office on Jan. 5, "he's getting no honeymoon from anyone," said state House Minority Leader Art Hamilton, a Democrat from Phoenix and a leader of those who support the King holiday.
Last spring, the Legislature voted against following the federal government in scheduling a holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader on the third Monday in January. The state Senate barely passed the measure, but the House fell one vote short.
Not long afterward, Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat who did not run for reelection, issued an executive order that created a King holiday for state employees. Forty states observed the holiday in 1986.
Mecham maintained throughout his gubernatorial campaign that he wanted to rescind Babbitt's order, and he reiterated his plans to do so the day after his election.
Mecham said Babbitt had no authority to create such a holiday. The governor-elect said also that he did not believe that any American, including King, rates a holiday alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday celebrations would be combined into a single President's Day to accommodate the King day.
Mecham's opposition to a King holiday led one black community leader in Phoenix to accuse him of having a "racist mentality."
In a meeting with community leaders, Mecham refused to discuss the King holiday issue, saying his mind was made up. He has also refused to say whether he would sign a King holiday bill if the Legislature passes one in 1987.