A failed effort to reinstate the most serious of three impeachment charges against Gov. Evan Mecham has set the stage for a Senate vote next week on whether he should be removed from office.
Senate Democrats on Thursday refused to go along with a move by Republicans to revive the charge that the first-term GOP governor concealed a $350,000 campaign loan a decision one senator called "political roulette.""If there are not the votes to convict, and Governor Mecham is back on the ninth floor (the governor's office) on Wednesday ... they have dealt themselves a losing hand," said Sen. Tony West, a Democrat and Mecham critic.
The Senate has heard five weeks of evidence on the remaining two charges: that Mecham tried to thwart investigation of an alleged death threat by a state official and misused $80,000 from the governor's protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.
The article of impeachment was dismissed Wednesday in a 16-12 vote supported by all 11 Democratic senators and five staunch GOP supporters of Mecham. Some of his sharpest critics have been state Republican leaders.
The Senate, in recess for the Easter weekend, is to hear closing arguments Monday, then vote on the charges later that day or Tuesday.
Although many senators said they had not decided how to vote, GOP Sen. Bill DeLong said he thought most had made up their minds.
"There's more than just the guilt or innocence on the charges," DeLong said. He said he expected senators would also be asked to act in the best interests of the state.
Sen. Greg Lunn, also a Republican, said dismissing the third charge increased the chance of Mecham being acquitted because the charge involving the $350,000 loan "was the most damning."
The charge was considered the most damaging partly because Mecham signed a letter promising the loan would remain confidential.
Democrats argued that a Senate trial on the charge could damage Mecham's right to a fair trial in criminal court on similar charges April 21. They also worried that hearing the charge would extend the Senate trial past the May 17 date of Mecham's recall election.