In Altamont, Duchesne County, the locals couldn't believe the turmoil that surrounded one of their own, ousted Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, born 63 years ago in the small community in eastern Utah's Uintah Basin.
"We can't believe he isn't a good man and see no reason for impeachment. I've not found anybody who couldn't praise Evan and his integrity," said Birdie Swasey, a retired teacher who has known the Mecham family since the Great Depression.Swasey and the other locals in Mecham's hometown said he was hard working, honest, and an exemplary citizen from a humble family of six.
The Arizona Senate said he obstructed justice and misused state money and removed him from office, the first U.S. governor to be removed in over six decades.
Mecham was born May 12, 1924, son of a dairy farmer, in Altamont, where he spent his first 12 years. When he was 12, he and his five siblings moved with their parents to nearby Mt. Emmons.
The impeached governor fondly reflected on his early years working his father's dairy farm in Utah.
"We didn't have much, but we weren't poor. I've never felt poor in my life," he said.
The area "was the greatest place to grow up. I always apologize to my children that I raised them in the city and not in a place like that," he said.
His Utah friends said the life of a dairy farmer's son during the Depression and the early years of World War II forged Mecham's character and perhaps nurtured the tenacity permitting Mecham to confront his accusers so stubbornly.
"He's never been a quitter," said his cousin, Ona Rust.
Mecham never quit, even in the face of criminal indictments, a successful campaign for a recall election and finally, the impeachment proceedings that ended the governorship he had sought in four previous elections.
And observers of his tenure in Arizona said it was the way he uncompromisingly confronted debilitating odds, the way in which he stubbornly faced his detractors, that contributed to his impeachment.
"It was almost as though he were daring them to do something. He was obviously not going to make any compromises on anything," Arizona State Democratic Party Chairman Sam Goddard said.
Some of Mecham's roots perhaps still remain in Utah, which he left in 1943 to join the Army Air Corps and then to move to Arizona where he attended school, purchased a Pontiac franchise in Glendale and began his rise to the statehouse.
In February, Mecham's nephew, Greg, contacted the Deseret News about wire stories concerning the governor that the newspaper had used. The younger Mecham said his uncle would be willing to tell his side of the story if contacted.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Mecham said his opponents had banded together in a "definite conspiracy," and at times had used "smoke and mirrors" to enter groundless impeachment and criminal charges against him.
Mecham is a member of the LDS Church, but said in the interview he has "always avoided using the church in any way. It should never be involved politically." If the church were trying to protect him, the Deseret News "wouldn't have run some of the nasty articles that have come over the wire" about him, he said.
The impeached governor occasionally returns to his birthplace in the Uintah Basin for high school reunions and friendly visits. His former neighbors are still proud of him and say he's been victimized.