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Mecham Faces Recall Vote if He Isn't Out by Weekend

January 26, 1988|RON HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — As state House impeachment hearings entered the third day Monday, Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham was informed that he has until the weekend to resign or face a recall election.

Secretary of State Rose Mofford announced that her office had received 301,032 valid signatures on recall petitions, far more than the 216,746 signatures needed.

A recall election probably will be set for May 17, Mofford said, unless the governor resigns within five days.

Vows to Stay in Office

Mecham, who also faces criminal charges in connection with a $350,000 campaign loan, responded to news of the pending recall by again vowing he will not resign, Press Secretary Ken Smith said.

Ed Buck, founder of the recall effort, said he was "overjoyed." Buck and 3,000 volunteers and supporters of the Mecham Recall Committee, confident they had turned in more than enough signatures, celebrated their victory at a hotel Saturday.

"I didn't think I could get this guy recalled," said Buck, who actually began calling for Mecham's recall two weeks before the governor's term began.

"I didn't imagine ever the cooperation that Evan Mecham would give us. We can thank Evan Mecham for making the recall successful."

Alienated Voters

Buck referred to comments made by Mecham that have alienated various groups of voters. For example, the governor had initially described the recall supporters as "a few homosexuals and dissident Democrats."

The four-month drive to collect signatures officially began July 6, but Buck had started as early as December, 1986, by printing "Recall Ev" bumper stickers. Atty. Gen. Bob Corbin said that even if Mecham is impeached or resigns after next Saturday's deadline, a recall election still will be held.

Also on Monday, the 10-member select House impeachment committee focused on allegations that Mecham illegally borrowed $80,000 in public funds from a so-called "protocol fund" and used the money to pay off personal debts.

Some $92,000 was placed in the fund in 1987 from money that was raised at an inaugural party for the governor.

Assistant County Atty. Howard Schwartz outlined how he had met with members of the inaugural committee and informed them that their fund-raising activity designed to pay off campaign debts was illegal.

Agreed to Move Funds

Schwartz said they reached a settlement that called for moving the money from an inaugural fund to a "protocol fund" for use by the governor for public expenditures.

But less than a month later, $80,000 had been transferred to the governor's Pontiac dealership. The governor then used $20,000 for a building he co-owned in Tacoma, Wash.

Warner Lee, former Arizona attorney general, represented the inaugural committee during the drafting of the agreement with the county attorney's office and drafted a letter sent by inaugural committee chairman William Long confirming that the funds would be used for public purposes only.

Lee told the impeachment committee that he was not sure if the funds were public, but that Mecham's use of the money for his dealership "doesn't even come close to coming within the confines of the agreement."

William Woods, a private investigator for the House special counsel, told the impeachment committee that he interviewed the governor's former chief of staff, Jim Coulter, who said he warned the governor that "it would be foolish" to borrow from the fund. Mecham insisted, however, and Coulter relented and transferred the funds to Mecham's car agency, Woods testified.

The governor later repaid the money at 9% interest.

Investigates Other Charges

The impeachment committee is also investigating a charge that the governor attempted to thwart an attorney general's investigation of a death threat made by a member of his staff and an allegation that he tried to hide a $350,000 campaign loan.

The governor and his brother and campaign chairman, Willard Mecham, are under indictment for allegedly trying to conceal the loan from Tempe attorney Barry Wolfson in a 1986 campaign disclosure statement.

The governor faces additional charges of perjury, fraud and false filing for allegedly trying to conceal the loan again in a 1987 financial disclosure statement.

Mecham and his brother, who both pleaded not guilty in an arraignment last week, are scheduled for trial on the charges in March. The governor has said that his failure to record the loan was an "honest mistake."

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