April 4, 1988 marked the end of the most divisive and tumultuous period in the history of Arizona politics. For the first time in its seventy-six years as a state, Arizona, and the nation, witnessed the removal of a sitting governor, Evan Mecham, by conviction on impeachment charges by the Arizona Senate. Evan Mecham was the first governor in United States history to be confronted with a recall, impeachment and criminal indictment simultaneously. Although removed from office, the impact of Mecham's fifteen-month administration will permeate the social and political fabric of Arizona, as well as cloud its national image, for many years to come. This essay will briefly examine the concept of recall as an exercise in direct democracy, and the factors and context surrounding the recall drive and impeachment proceedings of Governor Evan Mecham.
The Recall and Arizona's Provision
The recall is one of three aspects of the concept of “direct democracy,” the others being referendum and initiative. According to Wilcox (1912, p. 169) the initiative and referendum are instruments in the exercise of “pure democracy” which supplement representative government—the initiative is direct participation on the part of citizens in legislative action, while the referendum is an exercise in veto action. Conceptually, however, the recall is different. It does not involve direct citizen participation in the legislative activities of government, but is concerned with their ability to remove officials, principally elected but in some rare instances appointed, from office before the end of their term. As Wilcox stated, recall “… is simply the guaranteed right of the people to discharge their public servants when the public servants cease to be satisfactory to them” (Wilcox, 1912, p. 169).