Monday, February 15, 2010
Arizonans Aren't Bigots-- Just 50%
I grew up in Arizona amid the furor over the fight to remove the MLK holiday from our state by our governor, Evan Mecham. I was a little too young to understand how terrible his crusade was. My dad went around our neighborhood looking for signatures to remove Mecham from office.
Wikipedia collects the following gems about some of his reign in my home-state:
Besides the uproar caused by the MLK Day cancellation, Mecham committed other political faux pas. Claims of prejudice were made against Mecham after he defended the use of the word "pickaninny" to describe black children, claimed that high divorce rates were caused by working women, claimed America is a Christian nation to a Jewish audience, and said a group of visiting Japanese businessmen got "round eyes" after being told of the number of golf courses in Arizona. In response to claims that he was a racist, Mecham said, "I've got black friends. I employ black people. I don't employ them because they are black; I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job." These and other statements only strengthened the allegations of racism made against the governor following the MLK day cancellation.
Mecham made an issue of his relationship with the press. Claiming that many of his problems were caused by media enemies he had made during previous runs for political office, the governor stated, "The Phoenix newspaper monopoly has had my political destruction as its goal for many years." The governor also claimed, "Every daily newspaper in the state endorsed a different candidate besides me. It's taking them a little time to get used to the idea that I was the people's choice." In response to his perceived mistreatment by the press, Mecham attempted to ban a journalist from his press conferences. John Kolbe, a political columnist for the Phoenix Gazette and brother of Congressman Jim Kolbe, was declared a "non-person" after a February 25, 1987, column critical of Mecham's performance at the National Governors Association. The Governor then refused to acknowledge the presence of the columnist or answer his questions at a press conference. Mecham left the conference after other reporters repeated Kolbe's questions. Another incident occurred during a televised event in which a reporter questioned the governor's integrity, prompting Mecham to reply, "Don't you ever ask me for a true statement again."
In September 1987, Mecham received further national attention when Doonesbury began a six strip series of comics lampooning the governor. The first strip depicted Mecham saying, "My! What a cute little pickaninny!" while patting the head of a black child. Other strips satirized Mecham's tolerance of others, political appointments, and the state's loss of tourism business. For a short time, Mecham considered suing the strip's creator, but later said he had decided to leave the dispute "where it belongs—the funny pages."
Throughout his administration, Mecham expressed concern about possible eavesdropping on his private communications. A senior member of Mecham's staff broke his leg after falling through a false ceiling he had been crawling over, looking for covert listening devices. A private investigator was hired to sweep the governor's offices looking for bugs. The Governor was quoted as saying, "Whenever I'm in my house or my office, I always have a radio on. It keeps the lasers out." After this was reported, a political cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Steve Benson appeared in the Arizona Republic depicting the governor leaving his house outfitted for laser tag. When asked about this by reporters, Attorney General Bob Corbin replied in amusement, "We don't have any ray gun pointed at him."