PHOENIX — FIFE SYMINGTON hopes to turn the image of Arizona around. It's a multi-faceted task for the state's new governor, who was sworn in March 6. Considered a moderate Republican, Mr. Symington was elected in a Feb. 20 runoff that was made necessary when he and Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard, a Democrat, split the vote 50-50 in last November's election.
Arizona has suffered from a series of political setbacks: the impeachment of Republican Gov. Evan Mecham in 1988; ill feeling over the voters' defeat of a state-paid Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; a probe by the US Senate Ethics Committee into the relationship between Arizona's two US senators, along with three others, and Charles Keating, whose failed Lincoln Savings & Loan is under investigation; and ``AzSCAM,'' a scandal involving state legislators.
The Arizona senators - Dennis DeConcini (D) and John McCain (R) - were criticized by the Ethics Committee, but not subjected to any penalties. They, along with Sens. Alan Cranston (D) of California, John Glenn (D) of Ohio, and Donald Riegle (D) of Michigan, were alleged to have accepted campaign contributions from Mr. Keating in exchange for political favors.
The committee found that Senator DeConcini's actions ``gave the appearance of being improper,'' and that he and Senator McCain ``exercised poor judgment'' in their relations with Keating.
AZSCAM was a 16-month police undercover sting operation that resulted in the indictment of seven state legislators last month. The legislators were videotaped accepting bribe money from an undercover officer, who gave cash to legislators in return for their votes for legalizing gambling in Arizona.
Since the issuing of the indictments, local evenings-news programs have aired the videotapes of the legislators dealing with the officer. One of the legislators has since resigned and recall petitions are being circulated against the others.
Doug Cole, Symington's press secretary, says the governor's top priorities are ``turning the image of Arizona around, getting the state budget in order, solving a hazardous-waste facility dumping problem, education reform, and getting one Martin Luther King initiative on the ballot for 1992.''
``Symington is advocating ethics reform, with the legislative problem we've had, and is holding his staff to financial disclosure,'' says Mr. Cole.
Bruce Merrill, director of the Media Research Program at Arizona State University in Tempe says, ``Arizonans will really try to pull together to support the new governor and get us over this slump we've been in.
``Symington's basic message is a business approach to government - keeping taxes low, more efficiency in spending. People want him to succeed,'' Dr. Merrill says.