Man of the People: The Life of John McCain


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There was no way of knowing then that Arizona's ugly days would turn into years — that the state stood to endure a political scandal that would send legislators to jail for taking bags of cash from undercover agents pretending to be lobbyists AzScam ; that its U. Fife Symington III.

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But before all that, there was Ev Mecham, a conservative used-car dealer who won the Arizona gubernatorial election. Looking back, you can argue about just how bad a governor Mecham was. Mostly, he was an embarrassment. He's the one who used the term pickaninny and kept the state from recognizing the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

People were so set on getting Mecham out of office that they launched simultaneous efforts. To be on the safe side, in case the state Senate didn't impeach, the governor's detractors started a recall movement. The campaign was ready to go when Mecham was ousted. In Arizona, when a governor leaves office early, the secretary of state ascends. In this case, that was Mofford, a lady with a bright white beehive that Arizona Republic cartoonist Steve Benson once famously drew as a cone-full of Dairy Queen.

Mofford had served as secretary of state for decades. She'd never aspired to the state's top spot. She never showed interest in running for another term after that, although she was enormously popular. As the story goes, John McCain and his friends wanted her out immediately. And, they figured, they had the mechanism in place to do it. Mecham was gone, but the recall effort was still in place.

Why not shift gears and target Mofford instead? The Democrats didn't like that one bit and asked the Arizona Supreme Court to consider the legality. In mid-April , Mofford and some staff flew to Washington for, as one former aide puts it, the "perfunctory wet kiss" meeting with the Arizona congressional delegation. The tour was expected to go along without incident. Now, Mofford had been governor for only eight days.

Before that, her main task had been running the state's elections department.

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This appearance there was a similar one, later that day, before the House had been billed as ceremonial. She was not familiar with the particulars of federal water law. Nor did her staff think she'd be expected to be — just then. McClure asked Mofford a series of questions that would leave any water expert's mouth dry. Her staff jumped in to try to answer, but even so, ultimately they had to file an addendum to the testimony. Coincidentally, that very same day, Pat Murphy, then publisher of the Arizona Republic he died in was also in Washington to meet with the delegation.

He and his wife had lunch plans with McCain, and as Murphy recalled in a interview, they went to the hearing room where Mofford was testifying, to meet up with him. Murphy had written glowingly of McCain and considered him a personal friend. As Murphy recounted in an email, the incident crushed him.

Man of the People: The Life of John McCain

He said it was the beginning of the end of his respect for and friendship with McCain. We then walked back to McCain's office, where a few reporters, all of them from Arizona papers, as I recall, were waiting. One said there was a rumor McCain had tried to sabotage Mofford's testimony, to which he said something like, 'I'd never do anything like that. There was more. Another rumor, later reported in the Republic , held that McCain had brought in a private film crew to tape the proceedings, so that the tape could be used to embarrass Mofford in the recall election.

At the time, Jay Smith, McCain's campaign media consultant, was quoted in the Republic as declining comment; he did not deny the rumor. The next day, the Republic ran a story about Mofford's trip to Washington.

Who Was John McCain?

There was another story that very same day about the Arizona Supreme Court's decision not to allow the recall election to go forward. John Rhodes, the former congressman who had been tapped to run against Mofford, sounded relieved.