PHOENIX — The grass-roots movement to oust Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham staged a stormy scene at the state Capitol Monday after filing recall petitions purportedly bearing 388,988 signatures--more names than the controversial Republican had votes in last November's election.
About 150 people carrying boxes of petitions and shouting, "Hey, Ev, here we come!" initially tried to enter the Capitol through its museum wing but were blocked by police officers, who told them to use another door.
There were no arrests or injuries during the brief confrontation, which ended when policemen relented and let them through.
Canceled King Holiday
Mecham, a 63-year-old former Pontiac dealer, has come under fire for rescinding the state's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and for making a series of controversial statements and appointments.
His remarks, including the defense of the term "pickaninny," have offended minorities, homosexuals, Roman Catholics, educators, feminists, journalists and others.
The governor has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and rejected calls for his resignation.
The state attorney general, meanwhile, is investigating Mecham in connection with a $350,000 loan he allegedly concealed during his campaign, and the Arizona House is conducting an independent investigation that could lead to impeachment.
If the petitions filed Monday are found to contain 216,746 valid signatures, a recall election could be held by the second week of May, but legal challenges are likely to delay any vote.
During the standoff at the Capitol, recall organizer Ed Buck, who has publicly accused Mecham of racism, angrily called the black Capitol police chief a "baboon."
The chief, Lee Limbs, did not respond to Buck's insult but later said it "was not the first time Mr. Buck has made references to my ethnicity."
Limbs said also that his office had informed the recall organizers a half-hour before the confrontation that they should use the main entrance rather than the museum side.
As it turned out, the confrontation was little more than a charade. Buck, a self-described conservative, gay Republican, acknowledged later that the actual petitions had been removed from their vault and secretly delivered to Secretary of State Rose Mofford earlier Monday after "we received what were considered very serious threats against the recall petitions."
Another recall committee officer, Garry Smith, said the threat was made by a white supremacy group know as Posse Comitatus.
Neither the Phoenix police nor the FBI had any record of such a threat being reported.
The petitions Buck marched through the Capitol building later Monday were copies presented for the benefit of the media and recall volunteers.
About 35 Mecham supporters tried in vain to drown out chants of "Recall, recall" with their own shouts of "Keep Ev," as the two groups filled the Capitol lobby.
Mecham was at his attorney's office during the demonstration and a spokesman said he had no comment.
Rick Collins, chief of staff of the Arizona House, meanwhile, said that Mecham has been ordered by the state attorney general's office to appear before the grand jury today in connection with the loan.
Collins said the House investigation concerns "a number of other allegations" besides the loan. He said he could not be more specific while the investigation is under way. Under state law, impeachment is possible only if there is proof of "high crimes or malfeasance in office."
Mecham blames his troubles on what he describes as a biased Arizona press, a national homosexual lobby and a band of dissident Democrats bitter about his victory in last year's three-way race.
Mecham won the governorship on his fifth attempt with 343,913 votes, or 39% of the ballots cast, with most of the remainder split between a Democrat and a Democrat running as an independent.
120 Days for Signatures
The Mecham Recall Committee was given 120 days to gather signatures from a minimum of 216,746 registered voters--25% of all ballots cast in the last general election.
The governor, some of his staff and supporters have accused the recall movement of massive fraud but so far have produced no evidence of bogus signatures or misrepresentation by the petitioners.
The secretary of state's staff has 10 days to count the signatures before turning the petitions over to county recorders for validation.