Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 22, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable

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  • Don't miss HORIZON's weekly roundtable where local reporters get a chance to review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mark Flatten - Tribune reporter
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's Friday, February 22nd, 2008. And he was known worldwide for his controversial statements and rocky tenure in the governor's office. Today former Governor Evan Mecham passed on at the age of 83. Congressman Rick Renzi is indicted in connection to a land deal. And we'll look at a report about Senator John McCain, and accusations of an inappropriate relationship, and talk about how it could affect his presidential campaign. That's next, on "Horizon."

Ted Simons:
Good evening, I'm Ted Simons, and this is the "Journalists Roundtable." We're going to start our program tonight talking about a man whose impact on Arizona was huge during the late 1980s. Former Arizona governor Evan Mecham died today after suffering for several years from a form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's disease. The former Republican governor was known for his controversial statements, but led a varied life before taking office in 1986, after winning a 3-way race against former democratic superintendent of public instruction Carolyn Warner and developer Bill Schulz, who was a Democrat but ran as an independent. Producer Mike Sauceda tells us more about Mecham's life.

Mike Sauceda:
Evan Mecham was born on May 12th, 1924, in the small town of mountain home, Utah. He was one of six children and was raised as a devout Mormon. He enlisted in the U.S. army air force. He trained in mesa. He was shot down over Germany near the end of World War II. He became a prisoner of war. He went back home after the war and married his high school sweetheart. He attended what was then Arizona State College as a business major. He started selling cars at a dealership in Phoenix. He bought a Pontiac dealership in Ajo. He obtained a dealership in Glendale, and then in 1960 won office for the first time, winning a seat in the Arizona State Senate. He served one term before challenging U.S. senator Carl Hayden for his seat, a contest he lost. He ran his own newspaper, the evening American. He won a three-way race for governor. He started his term with controversy by rescinding the paid Martin Luther King holiday. The recall effort gathered over 300,000 signatures to get him out of office. A criminal investigation was started over a campaign loan that led to an impeachment trial. He spent his later years selling books about his life. In 2004, he was admitted to the Arizona Veterans home suffering from a form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's disease.

Evan Mecham:
Me? Hey, I did my best. I did a lot of good. That's what I was there for. When I'm out, I'm out, let's look at other things and not worry about it.

Ted Simons:
Here to tell us more about Evan Mecham is Tribune reporter Mark Flatten, who covered the governor's short but controversial term in office. Mark, good to see you here. Looking back, fascinating character. What made Evan Mecham tick?

Mark Flatten:
I think Evan Mecham had a deep-seated belief that what he was doing was right. Therefore whatever he did had to be right, because he, in his heart, believed this is what needs to be done. Someone asked me today, was he a mean man, because he said all those things that were perceived as very hostile, particularly about minority groups and things like that. I don't think he was a mean man. I don't think he had sort of ill will towards people, but he was sort of insensitive. When he said things like -- one of the controversies was he defended the use of the term "pickaninny" to describe small Black children. I don't think in his heart he thought that was a racial attack on anybody. He thought, what's the big deal? It was almost a naïveté about the sensitivities people have. I remembered covering one of them when he was talking to a group of business leaders. He had met with some Japanese businesspeople shortly prior to that. They love Arizona, and they get round eyes when they see our golf courses. I don't think he said it maliciously, but you're looking at the guy and going, did he just say that?

Ted Simons:
The sense of self-confidence -- when aides would tell him, seems as though the self-confidence bordered on arrogance, I don't need that kind of advice, I know what's right.

Mark Flatten:
He surrounded himself with like-minded people. You had very few people on the ninth floor that were true outsiders. People like Donna Carlson, that was a product of the legislature and sort of understood outside of the inner circle world. She was viewed by many on the ninth floor as sort of the, you can't really trust her, she's not one of us. Actually it was sort of a self-feeding group of close confidantes that had the same view that they are just out to get you if you re doing the right thing.

Ted Simons:
Looking back, how did Evan Mecham manage to Beat Burton Bar in the primary for the governor's race in the first place? Burton Barr, a major political figure.

Mark Flatten:
He was the epitome of the sort of inside politician. He reveled in the fact that he was the back room deal-maker, and people don't like that image, that kind of politics. Evan Mecham came along, and most people didn't know much about him. They sort of perceived him as the guy not afraid to take on the insiders and the phoenix 40, which at the time was a sort of semi secretive group. He was seen as the true reformer when he was running for office. Burton Barr could not have been a better person for someone like that to run against. He wasn't only the establishment, he was the back room establishment.

Ted Simons:
Speaking of the establishment,I know Governor Mecham always thought that forces were against him. Who did he see primarily as the forces that succeeded in getting him out of office?

Mark Faltten:
There was this cabal, he called them the corrupt something-or-others. It was the phoenix 40. Again, it was the semi secretive group of business and civic leaders who, for a long time, did have a great deal of sway in Arizona politics. There of course was the corrupt media who were just really their lapdogs. And there were the corrupt politicians, the people, from his perspective, the people like Burton Barr, people he perceived as more looking out for themselves and their little group of cronies. It was that world view that he brought into things. When you bring that world view into things, every bad thing that happens to be just reinforces that perception.

Ted Simons:
Could the Evan Mecham of 1985, '86, '87, could that man frown governor today in Arizona and win?

Mark Flatten:
That would be tough. Bear in mind, if you look at Mecham -- this is something that often gets passed over -- if you look at his legislative record, he was a pretty successful governor. Arizona was coming off of multiple years of the largest state taxes in history, and he put a stop to that. Arizona was in much the same situation that we are today, a midyear budget that was way out of balance. He came in and fixed it. He championed repealing the Federal 55 miles an hour speed limit. It was his mouth that got him into trouble. It was saying things that -- it was the insensitivity. The best example of that is the handling of the Martin Luther King Day. He issued an executive order declaring it a day off. He had no power to do that. The attorney general said, look, that's illegal. If you go through with this, you are personally liable for the state's costs. So he was right to do what he did, which was to repeal the holiday. But he didn't just repeal it and say, we need to repeal the holiday. He was in your face, oh, these people just want the day off. It wasn't the actions as much as the words.

Ted Simons:
So it was his style, in other words.

Ted Simons:
Mark, thank you for joining us, we appreciate it. Carl Kunasek served as senate president during the Mecham impeachment trial. Here's what he had to say about Mecham's passing.

Carl Kunasek:
He was a good man. I had no trouble with the governor, as far as differences of opinion on issues of morals or issues of citizenship. He was a good person there, in that regard. About the only thing I could say that we ever really differed on was style. He had a style all his own, and of course he didn't want to change it. But occasionally we were able to change his mind, but some of the times we weren't. He went about things his own way. So in that regard, he did -- he was elected governor, and he had to be respected for that. And we tried our best to work together, and we did, for the most part, work together. I regret perhaps that we had an impeachment, there is no question. However, the house was very intent on bringing about articles of impeachment. A number of the members over there had had significant differences with the governor, so their zeal and their anxiousness to bring about the articles of impeachment, delivered them to the senate. And at that point we had little role to play, other than to begin to set up and get ready to conduct the trial. Which is what we did. I regret that the impeachment was brought that way, because I do think that, as I recall, there was already a recall effort started. And it would have been much better to go to the recall effort, as opposed to the impeachment. However, that was not my decision. The decision was made by the members of the house and that's the way it played out. There was nothing personal about it between myself and the governor. I voted for conviction on one of the issues because that's the way it seemed to me. But it was a tragic day in the history of Arizona. But those things come along.

Ted Simons:
Joining me this evening for the "journalists roundtable," Mary Jo Pitzl of the the Arizona Republic, Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune,
and Mark Brodie of KJZZ Radio. Thank you all for joining us. It's just been an extremely busy week. Republican Rick Renzi indicted today on charges all stemming from a land deal. Paul, this is a little complicated here, but not a surprise.

Paul Giblin:
No, this is being -- has been investigated for years. Renzi disclosed that the FBI knocked down his office and family business and that's when he quit all his committee assignments. The land deal was the one we knew about. The big surprise was the other half, and that goes back to the first time he was running for election. He has an insurance company, and according to the indictment released today, he was collecting premiums for this insurance company and it actually was a brokerage company. Accordingly, he kept a good portion of the money and used that to finance his first election, and that's how he got into office. That was the surprise part today. The second half was what you mentioned. He had a business associate who owned a piece of land in Cochise County. A copper company wants some federal land because they think there's a big copper reserve under it. Their intention was to buy this from the government and -- not buy, so much as swap other valuable land, and that way everyone would be happy. The copper company would get the copper, and the environmental lands would be protected by the government. But Renzi insisted the copper company should buy his business partner's land, which finally happened with another company. Once that payoff was done, they spread the money around between the two of them.

Ted Simons:
Indeed, it sounded as though the allegations are that the business partner owed Renzi money. By getting the land sold, the loan was repaid.

Paul Giblin:
Right. In addition to that, according to the indictment again, they did a pretty good job of covering their tracks. The indictment is 26 pages long and the investigators really did an outstanding job. They went from this account to that account to another account, a really long paper trail. The investigators were at the press conference today, they were very quiet. I tried to talk to them afterwards and, true to their code, they didn't say anything. But they did really outstanding work, lots of involved work in that.

Ted Simons:
Mary Jo, is there any indication that Renzi will step down?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Well what we heard late in the House Majority Leader John Boehner sort of opened the door and suggested it might be time to go. He did not call on him directly to resign.

Mark Brody:
More like for the good of the party, we are going sit down and have a chat, and tend of that you might decide on your own that it's time to go.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
We'll get to the John Shadegg thing in a minute. But if Renzi were to sit down before May 4th, the state will have to have a special election to elect someone to replace him. Just this week we saw folks getting into the race up in cd-1, and another name or two have been thinking about backing out.

Paul Giblin:
What's really interesting, this election will be huge. It's seven counties and will cost millions for the seven counties and the states. You can tell us what the state budget looks like right now. If he was a leave before may 4th, and then we'd have the big election, and months later we'd have the regular election to fill the seat anyway.

Mark Brody:
If that were to happen, you would have members of the state legislature who would want to flow their names into the ring. That could start the domino effect of this legislator leaping so somebody else to has to come in to replace them. People from the legislature will decide most likely to come in, and that will start that domino… those dominos falling.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
Earlier this week, Chris Says announced she's forming an exploratory committee to look at running for that seat. If she pulls the trigger on that, she will have to resign her seat on the corporation commission. But you've got to wonder, with today's indictment, if that widens the field.

Ted Simons:
Here's an interesting scenario. Chris Mays might have difficulty getting out of a Republican primary. If there's a special election, does that help a Chris Mays or hurt a moderate Republican?

Paul Giblin:
It might not be such a tough Republican primary. There's only one Republican candidate, and that's Sidney Hay. She is a talk radio host, so it might not be the toughest Republican primary in the world.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
If there were to be a special election, Mays has more name ID, I would argue, than her opponent. And that might help. It's a quick, quick election if your name is known. Same on the Democratic side, we currently have three or four candidates in the running.

Ted Simons:
Is there anyone in the GOP scrambling to support in any way, shape or form, Rick Renzi, right now, anyone?

Paul Giblin:
No, he's radioactive. The Republican Party leader threw him under the bus this afternoon, just hours after the indictment. No, he's radioactive. One option open to him is to announce, I don't know, tomorrow, that he will retire on May 15th. That would effectively get him out of office, but not vacate it before that cutoff date, which would force the state to spend millions for an election.

Mark Brody:
Getting back, to what Mary Jo said about John Boehner, the words were completely unacceptable. Any kind of misconduct at this point, after what everybody went through a couple years ago and last year, I think at this point anything that, you know, has the faintest stench to it is going to be sort of looked at like, ohh.

Ted Simon:
If we've got radioactive on one side and a big bear hug with John Shadegg, what's going to happen?

Paul Giblin:
We're going to have an election. He said good-bye and left. But then, this is big love outpouring came 547 of his Republican colleagues sent hall of fame letter, unprecedented, we really need to you stay. And then 33 conservative groups signed a similar letter. He told me he had 2,000 phone calls and e-mails telling him the same thing. He thought about it long and hard and told me he was able to use this a as way to get some sort of advantage. He was kind of elusive about what he extracted. Apparently -- I don't know. He used this to leverage some sort of deal. He's going to stay on now.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
We should note that Shadegg did are run for house leadership and did not make it, so you've got to wonder health and welfare kind of deal he cut.

Paul Giblin:
He ran for leader and whip and lost both. None of those guys who have the position are expected to retire any time soon. I don't know what the mystery prize is, but apparently he got some sort of mystery prize.

Ted Simons:
Not only that, he's going to go back to Washington. It's still a minority situation for him, and he's not used to that, Mark. It's the same difficult situation, it hasn't changed that much.

Mark Brody:
One of the reason he is gave at least privately for dividing not to run again, it's not as much fun being in the minority. So it's going to be the same situation. One thing that will be different, he's going to have a primary this time, which he hasn't had in quite a while. Former state lawmaker Steve may, who jumped would the race when Shadegg announced he wasn't going to run for election, May has decided to stay in that race. So Shadegg will have to work at least a little to get out of that primary.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And on that point, the squealing of brakes and tires of all the lawmakers, all of a sudden they are not going to run for CD 3, but we're seriously weighing if Shadegg were to stick to his guns and if he retired at the end of the session.

Paul Giblin:
Steve May is going to give him a race. Steve is a businessman and he has a new venture in the stores very soon. He has quite a bit a money, and he's willing to pour a million of his own money into the race, and is confident he can raise another million. That's $2 million in a primary race. It could be a wild race.

Ted Simons:
Does this help or hurt John Shadegg? First situation, you think it's go to the hurt him. But look at the people that said, please, don't step down, please run. Does this help or hurt him, especially now with a democratic challenger with something he can stick to him?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think Paul raise as good question. He ought to look at the primary first of all. I'm not going to make sunny predictions, but Shadegg is going to be rattled a little with this primary.

Paul Giblin:
Steve May, God bless him, has national attention in the past. He was going back to the don't ask, don't tell policy. He was in the service, no one asked, no one told, he ran for the legislature, and told everyone. He military drafted him back and said, oh, my God, we've got a gay guy in the military. He was very up front about it. He's not a shrinking violate.

Mary Jo Pitzl:
And the support you were talking about, it only really matters if those people can vote in his district. We've seen how much endorsements really matter and whether or not they do. Having mike pence of Indiana saying we think you should come back, it's not clear whether or not that's going to matter to the voters in his election.

Paul Giblin:
the other point, Steve May, he's your moderate Republican, obviously. You've got Shadegg running on his conservative principles. We're seeing all over the place people are dumping the ultra conservatives and going for the more moderate people. Look at John McCain he is the moderate conservative.

Ted Simons:
Keep that point. We've got about 30 second. We can talk about the entire McCain situation. Let's boil it down to, accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a lobbyist, some concerns regarding campaign finance. How much is all of this going to help or hurt John McCain? I say help, but because I think the New York Times story shores up the conservative side to him. All of a sudden they're saying, that's our guy, we've got to protect him from the New York Times.

Paul Giblin:
People say don't go back to the Keating Five, eight years ago, whatever it was. You can go back to the prisoner of war, go back to that. The other thing, allegations of extra marital affairs, the New York Times didn't say it happened but they're getting kind of close.

Ted Simons:
What do you think, Mary Jo? Is it going to help him or hurt him?

Mary Jo Pitzl:
I think you make a good point that for now it helps him shore up the Republican base. And the McCain campaign very smartly leveraged this as a fund-raising effort, as well.

Ted Simons:
What do you think Mark? Did this help or hurt by all this attention?

Mark Brody:
I think it depends on how long the attention is on this particular story and when it's all over for him. When this story ends for him when people are talking about other stuff.

Ted Simons:
Interesting. Thank you so much for joining us. It may be the busiest week we have had in at least my tenure here. Let's hope that some of it continues at least. Thank you for joining us. The Bush administration opens up thousands of acres of public lands, next on NOW on PBS. I'm Ted Simons, you have a great weekend.

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