Even though Gov. Evan Mecham was not barred from holding public office in the future, the ouster of the first U.S. governor removed by impeachment in 59 years has left Arizona government in a muddle.
The Republican Mecham was convicted Monday by the GOP-controlled state Senate of "high crimes, misdemeanors or malfeasance in office" obstructing justice and misusing state funds.But the senators then voted down a proposal to ban the 63-year-old Mecham from holding state office for life, leaving it unclear as to whether that meant he would be allowed to run in a May 17 recall election forced by opponents who organized in anger over what they said was Mecham's insensitivity to blacks, gays, Jews and other minorities.
"Well, they don't like my politics, so we finished a political trial. It's as simple as that," Mecham said with a smile as he left the Senate building to the cheers of supporters.
Asked whether he would run in the recall election, Mecham said, "We'll hold all of our options open."
The attorney general's office said it will have to research the law to determine Mecham's status for the May 17 election.
The Senate votes automatically removed Mecham just 15 months into his term, and elevated Rose Mofford, the Democratic secretary of state, to the governor's chair. Mofford had been acting governor since the House of Representatives voted to impeach Mecham Feb. 5, and becomes Arizona's first female chief executive.
State officials said the recall election would proceed as scheduled. Six people filed nominating petitions to get on the ballot with Mecham. But with Mecham's status in limbo and legal questions having been raised about Mofford's candidacy, the situation was unclear and apparently headed for the courts.
Under Arizona's "resign to run" law, Mofford's status as a candidate was not clear because of her elevation from secretary of state to governor.
Mecham still faces criminal trial April 21 on perjury and fraud charges involving a $350,000 campaign loan that was the basis of a third article of impeachment that was dropped during the five-week trial.
Mecham was convicted on a 21-9 vote by the GOP-controlled Senate on charges he obstructed justice by blocking a state investigation of an alleged death threat by one of his aides against another.
Then, on a 26-4 vote, the Senate convicted him of illegally loaning to his auto dealership $80,000 raised at his inaugural ball and then deposited in his protocol fund.
The vote on whether Mecham should be permanently disqualified from holding public office the so-called "Dracula clause" failed on a 13-17 vote.