The state Senate defeated a bill to create a holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., a proposal that touched off widespread criticism of former Gov. Evan Mecham when he opposed it.

The King measure fell two votes short of the 16 needed in the 30-member, Republican-controlled Senate.Two Republicans who initially supported the bill, John Mawhinney of Tucson and Carol Macdonald of Safford, voted against it Thursday in what they said was a protest against heavy-handed efforts by Democrats to force a vote on the issue.

"I don't vote for extortion," Macdonald said.

Tucson Democrat Jaime Gutierrez said he believed that they voted against the bill because they both face tough re-election fights and do not want to alienate conservatives.

Democratic Gov. Rose Mofford had campaigned for the bill and still could try to designate a holiday by executive proclamation. But Republican Attorney General Bob Corbin has said such a move would be illegal and could subject a governor who tried it to legal costs.

Then-Gov. Evan Mecham, a Republican, in 1987 cited Corbin's advice when he rescinded such a proclamation made by Mecham's pred-ecessor, Democrat Bruce Babbitt, for a King holiday for state executive branch workers.

The move incited nationwide criticism of Mecham, who was eventually impeached and removed from office on unrelated charges.

Babbitt, a former attorney general himself, has insisted such a proclamation is legal.

Mofford has repeatedly refused to say what she would do if lawmakers did not enact the measure.