Evan Mecham can run for governor again this fall despite being impeached and removed from the office in 1988, Arizona's Supreme Court ruled.
Voters, not the courts, should decide whether the ex-governor is worthy of holding public office again, the state's highest court ruled Thursday in unanimously rejecting a challenge to Mecham's comeback bid."Impeachment, essentially a political process, is not subject to judicial review," the justices said. "Any appeal from the impeachment conviction lies in the electoral process."
Mecham was convicted by the state Senate of misusing about $80,000 given him by supporters and trying to thwart an investigation of an alleged death threat against an aide.
He is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination in the Sept. 11 primary.
Mecham has a small but extremely loyal following and could win the primary if the turnout is low and the other Republicans splinter the vote, a pollster said.
A retired Arizona Highway Patrol officer, Dennis Ingram, had challenged Mecham's right to hold office again, saying the state constitution automatically barred him from doing so because of his impeachment and ouster.
Mecham, 66, contended the ban was not automatic. He noted that the Senate specifically failed to prohibit him from running again.
The justices said the constitution was not clear on that point and "election, the ultimate weapon of democracy, is favored where any doubt exists."
Mecham, campaigning in Yuma Thursday evening, was jubilant.
"The court made the only decision that we could see that they could make," he said.
Mecham won the governorship on his fifth try in 1986. While in office, the former auto dealer offended blacks, Hispanics, Jews and women with inflammatory remarks, but he remained popular with many conservatives.
Gov. Rose Mofford, a Democrat who as secretary of state automatically succeeded Mecham upon his removal, is stepping down. Former Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard is the only major Democratic candidate.
The Senate convicted Mecham by a two-thirds vote but came up three votes short of a two-thirds majority when it considered a "Dracula clause" that would have banned him from holding public office.