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Evan Mecham

Gov. Evan Mecham

  • January 6, 1987 - April 4, 1988
  • Republican
  • May 12, 1924
  • February 22, 2008
  • Utah
  • Utah State University, Arizona State University
  • Married Florence Lambert
  • Army


EVAN MECHAM was born in Duchesne, Utah. He attended Utah State Agricultural College (which is now Utah State University) on an agricultural scholarship but left school to join the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. A fighter pilot, he was shot down and held prisoner of war for nearly a month, winning an Air and Purple Heart for his service. In 1947 he enrolled at Arizona State University but left school again three years later to open a car dealership in Ajo, Arizona, later relocating to Glendale, where he acquired another dealership. Mecham was also the owner of several short-lived newspapers. He first sought political office in 1952 with an unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives representing Ajo. But after moving to Glendale, he was elected to the state Senate in 1960. Two years later he attempted to unseat U.S. Senator Carl Hayden on a platform critical of U.S. membership in the United Nations and of the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting school prayer. Although he won the Republican primary, he received little support from Arizona’s junior Senator, Barry Goldwater, or from others in the Republican Party, and he lost the general election. Mecham went on to run for governor unsuccessfully in 1964, 1974, 1978, and 1982. But with the support of the Mormon Church and the John Birch Society, of which he was a member, he was successful in his fifth bid to win the governorship, promising tax relief and political reform. As governor, Mecham opened a trade office in Taiwan providing for the export of $63 million worth of U.S. cotton. He also promoted legislation permitting the governor to appoint pro tem judges to deal with drug-related issues. And he led an effort to raise the speed limit on rural highways from 55 to 65 miles per hour. At the same time, he attracted national attention by canceling a paid Martin Luther King holiday for state employees that had been established by his gubernatorial predecessor. Civil rights protests ensued, resulting in an economic boycott that became costly to Arizona over time. Mecham also issued public statements that resulted in charges of racism on his part, made enemies with the press, announced the nominations of candidates for public office whose backgrounds proved embarrassing, and maintained poor relations with the state legislature. By 1987, petitions were being circulated for the governor’s recall and political officials in Arizona were calling for his resignation. Early the following year, Mecham was indicted on six felony counts of perjury and filing a false campaign report in which he had failed to include a $350,000 loan to his campaign by a local real estate developer. Although he was later acquitted in the courts, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to impeach him in February 1988 on charges of obstructing justice and illegally lending state money to his business, and he was convicted and removed from office by the Arizona Senate two months later, although an insufficient number of votes was cast to prohibit him from running for office again. Indeed Mecham ran once more for governor in 1990, and for the U.S. Senate in 1992, both times without success. In 1995 he became Chairman of the Constitutionalist Networking Center, a group advocating the election of political candidates who are strict constructionists with respect to interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.



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