by Kaitlin D’Amico, MA, MLIS, CA, GARA, Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records
July marks the start of when many Arizonians start receiving their mail-in ballots. Unsurprisingly, Arizona is one of the states with the highest percentage of mail-in ballots across the country. Voting and politics are deeply intertwined as the submitted ballots give citizens a voice in which candidates advance to the general election ballot later in the year. In many cases, the candidates who advance to the ballot are well-qualified government officials. However, this is not always the case, especially when looking at one government official, Governor Evan Mecham.
The Arizona State Archives, a division of the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, serves as the official repository for Arizona’s historical and permanent records. This title means that we receive many official political documents from various government offices and some records relating to campaigns. We maintain multiple collections related to his role as governor, state legislator, and private citizen. These records contribute to the overall image of the controversial individual. He was the first governor to simultaneously face removal from office via impeachment, a felony indictment, and a recall election. Although we maintain records related to both the impeachment and indictment, the focus here will be on the recall election and the Mecham Recall Committee.
The Mecham Recall Committee Collection contains a variety of records and ephemera that document the efforts of the committee to not only make the public aware of Governor Mecham’s actions but also to remove him from office via petition. The collection includes correspondence, petitions, newspaper clippings, reports, and other items. But the most exciting items are the various marketing materials created by Ed Buck and other committee members to distribute as marketing materials and garner support for the recall election. As seen in the images below, there are buttons, t-shirts, coffee mugs, stickers, and even a fly swatter which were all distributed to spread awareness for what the committee stood for and how far they were willing to go to ensure Mecham was removed from office. The sayings on many items demonstrate the “tongue in cheek” approach the grassroots organization took, which allowed them to be persistent and embrace specific attacks from the governor and use them as part of their identity to say, “So what?” For example, one of the buttons says, “homosexual agitator,” an attack directed at Ed Buck from Governor Mecham based on Buck’s sexuality and persistent actions in the recall effort.
These materials contributed to the organization’s success in garnering the required verified petition signatures to start a recall election. Unfortunately for the organization, the election never came to fruition as Mecham was removed from office via impeachment by the Arizona State Legislature in 1988. The committee did not get to remove the governor from office via a vote by “the people.” But they managed to remove Mecham from office in whatever manner possible, whether via election or the legislature.
Today, we do not necessarily highlight this period of Arizona’s political history or even discuss it. To some, Mecham was an embarrassment to the political institution, whereas others see him as a pioneer in the Constitutionalist movement. He did great things during his time as governor, but those were overshadowed by the actions that led to his removal from office. Arizonans can’t necessarily agree on where Mecham should be placed in Arizona’s history. However, one thing they can probably agree on is that Governor Evan Mecham was one unique government official who will always be remembered for controversy and the sassy swag from the Mecham Recall Committee.