SANTA FE, N.M., NOV. 23 -- Evan? Evan who?
As the nation's Republican governors gathered in this picturesque state capital this weekend for a four-day conference on policy and politics, the dominant topic at the news conferences and receptions was the one topic the loquacious state leaders were loath to discuss: Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, probably the nation's best-known Republican governor right now.
One year after his election, Mecham faces simultaneous threats of recall, impeachment and indictment that have made him the focus of national media attention. The other 23 Republican governors, accordingly, have been asked repeatedly here to assess Mecham and his chances of remaining in office.
To a man and woman -- for the group now includes Kay Orr of Nebraska, the nation's first elected female Republican governor -- the chief executives have declined to comment. "That's a matter for Arizona to settle," said New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, in a typical response. "I don't think it's our place to involve ourselves into that matter."
Before Mecham arrived here Sunday evening, there was concern among the governors because of rumors that Mecham would ask his colleagues to involve themselves by passing a resolution supporting him in his legal and political battles.
"If that happened," said Michelle Davis, executive director of the Republican Governors' Association, "you'd see a lot of the governors hiding behind the potted plants in the lobby."
In the event, Mecham spared his colleagues. At a western hoe-down hosted by New Mexico Gov. Garrey Carruthers, Mecham passed the word that he would not ask for any expression of support, formal or informal, Carruthers said.
The combative Arizona governor had little to say about his fight to stay in office. He did predict that the various storms surrounding him would pass, and he would serve out his four-year term.
With Mecham off the agenda, the GOP governors concentrated on the future of their party. The central question here seemed to be, as former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander put it, "What does it take to make Republicans the majority party in America?"
"Twice before in this century we've had the advantage of a two-term Republican president to build a permanent Republican majority," Alexander said. "Twice before we've failed . . . . And when Ronald Reagan leaves office, we ought to be able to build on his base to win a permanent majority."
Responding to Alexander's challenge, the governors offered various formulas designed to win Democrats and independents to GOP allegiance. There were many proposals: "Reach out to minorities," suggested Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon. "Emphasize our moral values," said Mecham. "Strengthen our appeal to women," said Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson.
But the single word that seemed to have universal appeal in this Republican gathering was "education."
Nearly every GOP chief executive present was boasting about new state education initiatives. To emphasize the point further, the governors set aside a fairly large chunk of their program for a discussion of education programs led by Lynne Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Republican embrace of education was so strong that it appeared to outweigh the traditional GOP dislike for taxes. Several governors spoke with apparent pride here about new taxes they had helped impose in their states to fund educational programs.