Clowns who say outrageous things, who are completely unqualified for office, are very capable of being elected in America. They are entertaining, underestimated, and disasters in office. The highest office reached so far has been governor — think Jesse Ventura in Minnesota and Lester Maddox in Georgia. Closer to home was Evan Mecham, the governor of Arizona from 1987 until he was impeached and removed from office less than 15 tumultuous months later.
Mecham was a clown, given to conspiracy theories and outrageous statements — his "pickanniny" comment and blaming working women for high divorce rates were only two. But he had support from the state's right wing, especially John Birchers and fellow Mormons. He was a populist, after his fashion. In Mecham's world, the government was the enemy and cause of all ills. He wanted to eliminate income taxes and turn over the public's lands to state interests. A theocrat, Mecham wanted to have prayer in public schools. Threats were everywhere, out to destroy real Americans and the real America.
The toupee'd Glendale car dealer and serially failed newspaper publisher gave Carl Hayden a scare in the 1962 U.S. Senate race. Among his issues was a demand that the United States withdraw from the United Nations. Hayden's longtime aide Roy Elson organized a campaign to "reintroduce" the senator to a state he had served in Washington since 1912, but had attracted large numbers of newcomers since 1956. Hayden won comfortably, but many old Arizonans were unsettled. That anyone could get 45 percent of the vote against the state's indispensable man in the fight for the Central Arizona Project was astounding and deeply disturbing.
Mecham ran outsider campaigns for governor again four times before winning. As in 1962, each election he explicitly ran an insurgent campaign against elites and "the establishment."
His election was a fluke. In the 1986 Republican primary, he faced the respected state House leader Burton Barr, who was supported by the establishment, from Barry Goldwater to the Pulliam press. But Barr, a legislative wizard, ran a sluggish campaign. Turnout was the lowest in 40 years. And Mecham cleverly exploited the grievances and paranoia of newcomer retirees, adding to his Bircher and LDS base — people who did vote. On the Democratic side, and back then Arizona was a competitive state, Carolyn Warner was sandbagged by apartment magnate Bill Schultz, who got out of the race only to reemerge as an independent.