His Pulpit: The Newspaper p.

By: Walt Jayroe Ex-Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham is getting his conservative word out via soft-tone columns in the state's weekly newspapers
THE POWER OF the printed word has long fascinated former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham.
Impeached in 1988, he flailed back at adversaries through a series of newsletters and a tabloid, the Impeachment Journal, a Chronical [sic] of Arizona Political Conspiracy and Intrigue.
Last summer, Mecham scrapped his most ambitious plan, a daily newspaper in the Phoenix area called the Arizona Newsday.
It is not what he hoped for, but the 69-year-old Mecham at least has found a new voice for his ultraconservative political opinion.
On Feb. 18, his column, ""Common Sense,"" began appearing in the Gem, a small weekly newspaper in rural La Paz County on the California border and its sister paper in Blythe, Calif.
Since then, the column has been picked up by the Desert Sun, a new weekly in Buckeye, west of Phoenix. The three papers claim a combined circulation of about 11,000, much of it free distribution.
A new Mecham seemed to emerge with his column from an era of tumult in Arizona politics, where, in the main, his role developed as Republican Party gadfly and perpetual also-ran.
Since impeachment, he lost a race to reclaim his governorship in 1990 and was routed last fall, as an independent, trying to unseat John McCain in the U.S. Senate.
Mecham still harbors hopes of statewide office, most likely his old job as governor. Through it all, Mecham often warred openly with the state's largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic of Phoenix.
In his columns, he has so far adopted a softer tone as well as an altered focus. No more Mr. Bad Guy for him. Far from the steamy issues facing Arizona, Mecham beamed in mostly on national issues, running them through his philosophical gantlet of a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and adherence to state sovereignty.
The first column predicted a one-term presidency for President Clinton. Like former President Bush, Clinton failed to learn history's lessons that campaign promises are not to be broken, Mecham wrote. He called Clinton's election ""another double cross, just as we have seen in most administrations since 1932. . . . The change we need is to cut out the waste in Washington, reduce the size of the federal government and start reducing taxes instead of raising them.""
In another column, Mecham criticized the ""Clintonistas"" for their dream of a national health-care plan, seeing it as both impractical and unconstitutional. Mecham, a Mormon, bolstered his point by translating a quotation from Genesis as ""There's no free lunch.""
Mecham also assailed federal involvement in education, the U.S. role as ""world policeman"" and Clinton's inability to change the direction of government.
Shortly before the U.S.-Russia summit, Mecham voiced his disgust with foreign aid, in particular monetary loans to Russia. He sees ""no shortcut to freedom and prosperity for the Russian people."" Loans to Russia are just another example, he wrote, of Clinton ""committed to pushing the New World Order of socialist superstates and using American taxpayer funds to bring it about.""
The only loan America should make to Russia, he wrote, is a book. The Making of America by Cleon Skousen would prove ""an excellent blueprint"" for the former Soviet Union.
The closest Mecham came to Arizona matters occurred during the devastation of last winter's flooding of the lower Gila River. He faulted a federal decision in the 1950s for failure to construct a flood channel due to concern for the endangered clapper rail. Mecham urged the state congressional delegation to right the injustice of ""putting the priorities of birds, fish, plants and animals above people.""
The columns resonate with impending doom for an America that does not change its course.
Seeing the same symptoms that led to the fall of the Roman Empire mirrored in our own time, Mecham in early April blamed much of the problems on federal policies regarding education, homosexuals, welfare programs, taxation, and separation of church and state.
""America's eventual moral collapse,"" he wrote, ""will again prove that any society that will not protect itself from moral decay will be destroyed by it.""
Though quick to criticize, the columns offer only general solutions to perceived ills.
Actually, Gem associate publisher Larry O'Daniel came up with the idea of a Mecham column. A conservative himself, O'Daniel had met Mecham at political gatherings and later suggested that the former governor write on state and national issues opposite his own column on local matters called ""The Starboard Side.""
The Gem is locked in a vigorous competition for readers along the Colorado River in western Arizona. Like Steve Morris of the Desert Sun, O'Daniel saw it as a possible circulation builder.
""Evan Mecham,"" he said, ""has swept about every election in La Paz County. No competitor running against him has even come close.""
How much of a magnet Mecham proves for readers remains to be seen. O'Daniel and Morris have both said it is too early to tell.
The Gem sends copies of Mecham's columns by fax to the Associated Press bureau in Phoenix, where they are reviewed for news value. From those early columns, only one story has emerged, according to a staffer for AP.
""We don't agree with everything he says,"" O'Daniel was quoted as saying, ""but we admire his fighting spirit.""
In a recent interview at his Glendale, Ariz., home, Mecham said he was not seeking a new voice for his political thought when approached by O'Daniel. He said he receives no money for writing the columns.
""I thought it'd be kind of fun to sharpen up the skills again and do a little writing. It gets me to focus subject by subject.""
Column writing is nothing new for Mecham. Largely in response to his 1962 defeat to incumbent Carl Hayden for the U.S. Senate, Mecham began publishing his own daily newspaper in the Phoenix market called the Evening American (""A Straight-Shootin' Newspaper""), from 1963 to 1965. Mecham wrote a column and, occasionally, an editorial. The paper folded for want of advertising and other financial support.
Even with his own newspaper, getting the word out was difficult, he said. Unless he did it himself.
""I was going to let the experts do it, you know,"" he said of opinion writing, ""but . . . I couldn't get the things written the way I wanted them by others.""
Though Mecham briefly served as a guest host on a Phoenix radio talk show, he gravitated to the written word.
""I like the print media,"" he said. ""I think it's more powerful.""
While there is room for radio and TV news, Mecham said, ""The only reason they've been successful in news is due to the poor job being done by print, but the heart and soul of newspapers is gone.
""It is no longer based on 'We owe it to these people.' It used to be a sort of a quasipublic institution. Today, it isn't. It's just a mill to make money. So we have lost what essentially built newspapers . . . but there's nothing to replace the printed word.""
Starting up his own newspaper remains on Mecham's mind. In the next year or two, perhaps, he said, but his last effort angered some who forked out money for the project. Mecham promised to refund subscribers. An undercover reporter for the Phoenix weekly New Times gained access to the enterprise and wrote a story of a bumbling, hapless drive to raise funds.
Mecham said a backer pledged $25 million to the paper but reneged. By then, Mecham had leased a building and reportedly acquired an eight-unit Wood-Hoe Colormatic press from the Las Vegas Sun.
""That left me really hanging out,"" he said, ""so I looked pretty stupid on that. If I do [start a newspaper], I'll wait till I have the money in the bank before I announce it again.""
Undaunted, Mecham said he is not alone in the belief that another newspaper in metropolitan Phoenix is needed.
""The public,"" he said, ""is hungry for the truth. They're hungry for unedited and unslanted news. They're hungry for the happenings instead of just filling the paper up with something to keep the ads apart.""
In the meantime, Mecham said he plans to continue writing columns for the Gem and Desert Sun.
""Most people don't understand me,"" he said. ""I'm basically not anxious for the spotlight. I didn't get into politics because I love the public arena. I got into it because it just didn't seem like anybody else was doing what I thought ought to be done.
""I think it's absolutely necessary, in order to turn this state around, we're going to have to get the truth out to the people.""
So far, for Mecham, that has not been easy.nE&P
? Evan Mecham
? Seeing the same symptoms that led to the fall of the Roman Empire mirrored in our own time, Mecham in early April blamed much of the problems on federal policies regarding education, homosexuals, welfare programs, taxation, and separation of church and state.
? (Jayroe is a free-lance writer.)
?""If I do [start a newspaper], I'll wait till I have the money in the bank before I announce it again.""


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Scroll the Latest Job Opportunities From The Media Job Board