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King Furor Is Business as Usual in Arizona : Government: State's history shows wild and wooly politics that continue to this day.

November 18, 1990|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — To students of Arizona political history, the furor over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday represents hardly a hiccup in decades of hot-air political debates.

It began with Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt. In the election of 1916, Hunt lost to Republican Tom Campbell by 30 votes. Hunt refused to recognize the election results and would not leave the governor's office in the Capitol. Both men took the oath of office on Jan. 1, 1917. Campbell, lacking an office, ran the state's business for 11 months from his home.

Hunt eventually served eight terms as Arizona's governor. Upon his death, and in accordance with his wishes, he was entombed in a pyramid near the Phoenix Zoo.

More recently, there was the bizarre and tragic sequence of events that gave the state three governors in five months. It began when Raul Castro resigned during his term, on Oct. 20, 1977, to accept an appointment as ambassador to Argentina. Castro was succeeded by Secretary of State Wesley Bolin. The silver-haired Bolin was especially beloved in the state because of his habit of proudly wearing a bolo tie, Arizona's official state neckwear.

Bolin, however, served only a few months and died in office on March 4, 1978, of a heart attack. Bolin's death launched the careers of two Arizona politicians who gained prominence a decade later.

In accordance with the state's succession laws, the secretary of state should have succeeded Bolin. However, the person holding that position, Rose Mofford, had been appointed by Bolin to fill his former position and, according to the Arizona constitution, only an elected official can fill a governor's expired term.

That made Attorney General Bruce Babbitt, a little-known northern Arizona lawyer, the new governor.

Babbitt went on to win a general gubernatorial election and run for the presidency in the Democratic primary.

Mofford eventually became governor of Arizona after the impeachment and removal from office of Republican Evan Mecham in April, 1988. Mecham was removed from office on grounds of misusing public funds and obstructing justice.

Now, even after the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election, Mofford, who did not run for the post, is still the governor. She is serving as the state's interim leader while the Arizona legislature convenes a special session Monday to determine how to conduct a runoff election between Republican Fife Symington and Democrat Terry Goddard.

Symington beat Goddard by about 4,200 votes, but under a law passed in 1988, the gubernatorial winner must win by at least 50% plus one vote. The law was passed as an "anti-Mecham" measure: Mecham won the three-way gubernatorial election in 1986 with only 39.7% of the popular vote.

Unfortunately, Arizona lawmakers failed to attach any enabling legislation to the law, so now no one has any idea how to conduct a runoff election.

Gov. Mofford is hoping the election will take place before the end of February. The estimated cost to the Arizona taxpayers for the legislative special session and runoff election: $3.5 million.

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