- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

PHOENIX (AP) — Evan Mecham, a firebrand conservative who served 15 months as Arizona’s governor before a dramatic impeachment trial removed him from office in 1988, died Thursday, a former aide said. He was 83.

Mr. Mecham, who always blamed his downfall on political enemies, had been in deteriorating health with Alzheimer’s disease for years and was at the Arizona State Veterans Home in Phoenix until recent weeks, when he went into hospice care, said state Sen. Karen Johnson, who was Mr. Mecham’s aide while he was governor.

“I just think Evan was a visionary, perhaps a little bit ahead of his time for some people, and a great, great patriot and constitutionalist,” she said.

“He had such a drive to return state’s rights to Arizona and the country and it will be a great celebration at his funeral to honor such a great man.”

Mr. Mecham, a millionaire automobile dealer who served in the state Senate for two years in the 1960s, ran for governor four times before he finally won a three-way race in November 1986.

In April 1988, the Republican was removed from office when the state Senate convicted him of obstructing justice and misusing $80,000 in state funds funneled to his Pontiac dealership to keep it afloat. He was the first U.S. governor impeached and removed from office in 59 years.

Mr. Mecham claimed the funds were the proceeds of his inaugural ball, which had been intended as campaign contributions. He insisted it was his money to spend as he saw fit, except for political purposes.

In a privately printed 1988 book titled “Impeachment: The Arizona Conspiracy,” Mr. Mecham claimed the real reason he was impeached and convicted was “pure and simple raw political power exercised by those groups who wanted to remain in control.”

“In the final analysis, my error was not in what I did with the [protocol] funds, but in thinking I was dealing with people who had honor, integrity and the best interest of the state at heart,” Mr. Mecham wrote.

In a criminal court in June 1988, Mr. Mecham was acquitted of six felony counts of violating campaign finance laws by concealing a $350,000 loan.

Mr. Mecham had been elected with 40 percent of the vote. He took office in January 1987, but controversy quickly erupted. Some of his appointees came under fire, and he was criticized for rescinding a Martin Luther King Jr. state holiday, saying its creation was illegal.

Mr. Mecham, born in Duchese, Utah, began selling cars to put himself through college. He attended Utah State University, Creighton University and Arizona State University, but did not get a degree.

Survivors include his wife, Florence, and seven children. Funeral plans were incomplete yesterday.

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