With the conviction and removal of Evan Mecham on impeachment charges, Arizona made some unhappy history this week.
It's unhappy not just for the ousted governor the first in the U.S. to be removed by impeachment in nearly six decades and his supporters but also for the entire state because of the deep and lasting damage that has been done to Arizona during the past several months.At this point, there is still some room for reasonable people to disagree over whether Mecham was the victim of his own blunders and abrasiveness or the victim of a bloodless form of political assassination.
But there can be no doubt that Arizona has a big repair job to do so big, in fact, that it may take a decade or so to complete.
Arizona has been left with a national image problem not just because of Mecham's feistiness or ineptitude, depending on how one views him, but because of the way this whole episode kept hinting at the extent of organized crime in the state.
The government of Arizona has been left in a muddle. It still isn't clear whether Mecham can seek re-election in a recall vote scheduled May 17. Nor is it clear whether Arizona's secretary of state, automatically elevated to governor by Mecham's ouster, must resign as secretary of state in order to run for election to keep the governorship.
Some members of the communications media have been left with a credibility problem. When Mecham testified during televised impeachment proceedings, he came across as much more sensible and responsible than he had been portrayed by some reporters.
Then there's the impeachment process itself. To most Americans, this rarely used procedure has been just a chapter in a history book or a footnote in a civics text. But now many of them have seen impeachment in action, and if the Mecham case is any indication there's justification for some disillusionment with this procedure.
That's because the procedure involves a double standard. Lawyers prosecuting and defending Mecham were required to follow the usual courtroom standards on which kinds of questions were proper. But when members of the Arizona Senate questioned Mecham, just about anything was allowed. As a result, the public was treated to a mixed spectacle that included some legislative pettiness and maladroitness.
As a governmental process, then, impeachment is a crude tool that seems hard to justify as long as public officials can be taken to court and as long as voters have recourse to a recall election, as they do in Arizona.
One final point: Even some of Mecham's staunchest defenders insist he could have avoided much difficulty just by toning down his rhetoric and being more willing to compromise. That's good advice now for all of Arizona as its starts trying to heal the wounds inflicted by this historic episode.