PHOENIX — Four of Arizona's five Republican members of Congress joined a growing list of state GOP officials Saturday and asked embattled Republican Gov. Evan Mecham to resign from office "for the good of the state of Arizona."
"It is with great sadness that today we are requesting that Gov. Mecham resign from office," Sen. John McCain said during the afternoon press conference. "State government is in serious danger of becoming paralyzed.
"Once viewed almost exclusively as a place of opportunity and hope, our state has become a scene of negativism and controversy. Clearly Gov. Mecham has been the central figure in this controversy."
If Mecham were to resign, he would be replaced by Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, and a recall effort now under way would be called off. That would close off the possibility that a Republican governor could be elected to replace Mecham.
'Do Something for State'
"We are not here as Republicans," Rep. Jon Kyl said. "We are urging the governor to do something for the state of Arizona." McCain and Kyl were joined by Reps. Jim Kolbe and John J. Rhodes III.
Just a few hours before the press conference, Mecham, who faces criminal charges, impeachment proceedings and an almost certain recall election, reiterated his pledge not to resign.
"What an insult that would be to the hard-working people who put me in this office to leave and turn it over to the other party," he told a meeting of the Maricopa County Republican Committee to applause.
The fifth Republican member of Arizona's congressional delegation, Rep. Bob Stump, did not join the press conference by his colleagues, and said in a prepared statement that "it would be presumptuous for me to ask another elected official to resign."
"While I do not condone any abuse of the public's trust, it is our Constitution and statutes which provide the proper means for the removal of any elected official from office," Stump said.
Tried to See Mecham
McCain said his group had been leaning toward asking the governor to resign as early as Thursday when the four of them began requesting to meet with him. Mecham's staff refused repeated requests, he said.
"It wasn't helpful that he wouldn't meet with us," McCain said.
Neither, said the members, were the events of the last nine days, which began with the governor's being indicted on criminal charges for allegedly concealing a $350,000 campaign loan. On Friday, a special counsel investigating the governor at the request of the Arizona House, reported to state lawmakers that Mecham could be impeached for events related to the loan, for allegedly using public funds to bail out his car dealership and for attempting to thwart an investigation by the attorney general.
William P. French, the special counsel hired by the House and a former presiding Superior Court judge, presented documents that he said showed "clear and convincing evidence" of an elaborate scheme by the governor to hide a campaign loan from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson.
Other documents presented by French showed that Mecham transferred $80,000 designated as public funds to his automobile dealership and then used part of that money to pay for a building he owned with others in Tacoma, Wash.
French also presented a sworn statement from the director of the Public Safety Department that the governor told him not to cooperate with an investigation by the attorney general's office into death threats made by a member of the governor's staff.
House Speaker Joe Lane said hearings on the impeachment report would begin this week.
Not 'Making Judgment'
McCain said that while he and the congressmen were not "making a judgment as to the governor's guilt or innocence" on the charges in their request for him to resign, "yesterday brings us to a climax."
"It's very clear that the charges against him are egregious and that there is very damaging evidence," Kyl said. "If that evidence is true, then he doesn't deserve to be governor."
It is the defense of those charges in the House and in court as well as a possible recall election that has diminished the governor's effectiveness, Kyl said.
"Any one of those would require his full attention," he said. "I don't think he can do that and effectively run the government."
Kyl added that if the controversy continues, it could affect the delegation's efforts to bring projects such as the super-collider to Arizona.
Governor Scoffs at Report
Mecham scoffed at the French report, saying the evidence the special counsel presented to legislators would be "laughed out of the courtroom."
"I don't think anyone got killed," he said in reference to evidence French called the "smoking gun" that showed Mecham's involvement in a scheme to hide the campaign loan.
"As expected, the French report contains little more than an emotional appeal to the Legislature to impeach me before the court proceedings give me a chance to prove my innocence," Mecham said.