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Tucson Weekly The Mecham Principle

Is Impeachment And Removal Just A Question Of Attitude?

By Emil Franzi

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  MUCH HAS BEEN said about the massive hypocrisy all factions have exhibited in the proposed impeachment of President Clinton. Arizonans are uniquely qualified to evaluate both that potential impeachment and the hypocrisy of the process because we experienced the nation's most recent case of the impeachment of a governor. In 1988, Gov. Evan Mecham was removed from office for the biggest single reason we now consider for removal of President Clinton--social unacceptability.

The cover charges for the real motivation in both cases are probably stronger against Clinton than they were against Mecham. Following his removal from office, Mecham was never found guilty of any criminal offense. Meanwhile, the biggest argument against impeaching Clinton for his obvious perjury is that lying under oath shouldn't count if it's about sex.

In both cases the investigations were conducted by zealous prosecutors out to get their man--Ken Starr for Clinton, Attorney General Bob Corbin for Mecham. In both, charges were filed after investigation by a grand jury. Unlike Starr, Corbin had the power to indict his target and did so. Starr could only place his charges before Congress.

Grand juries are a well-oiled, very dangerous tool of the criminal justice system that would allow prosecutors to bust the Pope for sodomy if they so desired--which presents us with one of the many great ironies in the whole Clinton saga:

The President has always acted "tough on crime." Civil-liberties advocates know he's been the most miserable chief executive since John Adams pushed the Alien and Sedition Laws. He's collected more databases on Americans, presided over the butchery at Waco, and appointed a battalion of former prosecutors to the federal bench. He also chose a prosecutor for his Attorney General. How fitting that he's now been manhandled by a process he so thoroughly embraced. If you think Starr treated him rough, imagine what happens every day to people named Bubba and José.

Mecham, too, was a law-and-order type who liked putting prosecutors on the bench. But the biggest difference between the two men is that, for all of his quaintness, Mecham actually believed in something and wasn't posing. Which has much to do with why he's no longer in government.

Perhaps there was a "right-wing plot" to bag Clinton, but there definitely was a "left-wing plot" to bag Mecham. There were folks yelling "recall" the night he was elected and holding meetings before he was even sworn in. The cover reason they gave was that he won a three-way race with less than 50 percent of the vote. Well, so did Clinton.

The Mecham railroad job was supposedly "bi-partisan." Corbin was a Republican. But those who are fully aware of Arizona politics know the two real parties are the Establishment Power Structure and the rest of us. Clinton began with a suck-up media; Mecham had the wrath of the state's entire establishment media on him from day one. Mecham proved that while you don't need the daily newspapers to be elected, you do need them to stay in office.

Blue-collar Democrats got behind the assault on Mecham because they saw him as a tacky, right-wing car dealer who opposed liberal causes like the Martin Luther King Holiday. The Establishment cared little about King until it became apparent the flap was going to cost them the revenue from the Super Bowl; then it was "off with his head." (Ironically, all Mecham did was honor an opinion from Corbin that stated former Governor Bruce Babbitt, in an earlier pander, had illegally proclaimed the holiday in the first place.)

Democrats voted unanimously in both houses of the Legislature to both impeach and convict. The fact that Mecham would be replaced by one of their own party, Secretary of State Rose Mofford, clearly had some impact on their collective decision. Remember that next time one of them whines about "partisanship," or "overturning" an election. You would "overturn" the 1996 presidential election by replacing Clinton with Bob Dole, not with Al Gore.

The Democrats were joined by the country club/weenie wing of the GOP because Mecham was a tacky, right-wing car dealer--whereas, being a tacky moderate car dealer would've been OK. The Legislature's impeachment vote was dressed up with some trumped-up charges, which were later laughed out of court when Mecham got to a real jury.

Thus the rules for impeachment have been clearly defined for Arizonans: Screw the guy if you don't like him. Forget the election he won, rig a grand jury to make some charges and then throw the bum out. Hide behind legal jargon and try to look austere when discussing the hallowed process, but concentrate on gross behavior.

Some may consider that believing "piccaninny" to be a term of endearment, as Mecham professed, is worse than letting an intern suck on your weenie at the office and then lying about it, as Clinton has admitted. That there are laws against what Clinton did--at least for the rest of us--is really a minor point. The crux of both cases is that these men behaved idiotically. Mecham never grasped that his actions fit that description; Clinton apparently just didn't care.

Many Arizonans wanted Mecham removed because they thought he debased the office by his attitude. Others believe Clinton has done the same. So the real question is: Should socially unacceptable behavior be sufficient reason for impeachment? Because, bottom line, that's the real rap--then and now.

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