PHOENIX, FEB. 5 -- Gov. Evan Mecham, whose administration has been beset with controversy and criminal charges, was impeached today by the Arizona House of Representatives for "high crimes and misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office" and forced to step down from office pending trial by the state Senate.

Just hours after a defiant Mecham had concluded four days of testimony by calling the impeachment process a "mockery," House members voted 46 to 14 to remove the Republican governor from office pending a Senate trial. Only 31 votes were needed.

Arizona's Constitution forced Mecham, the first Republican governor in 12 years and the first to be impeached since statehood in 1912, to step down until he is tried. Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, automatically became acting governor.

{House Majority Leader Jim Ratliff, the only GOP leader to support Mecham, told United Press International that he notified the governor of the impeachment vote by telephone. He quoted Mecham as saying, "Fine. When I get back, I'll get with Rose Mofford and work it out."}

The House postponed until Monday a vote on the articles of impeachment, which will contain the actual charges against the governor. House leaders said as many as 20 allegations could be in the articles.

The 19 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the Senate will sit as jurors in the impeachment trial. If 20 of them vote to convict, Mecham's removal from office will be permanent and Mofford will continue as governor. The Senate has 10 days to set a trial date and then must give 10 days' notice of the charges, which could place the start of the trial near the end of this month. Some legislators said today that the trial might take at least two months.

Mecham, 63, is accused of trying to hide a $350,000 campaign loan, of borrowing $80,000 in public funds for his automobile dealership and of obstructing justice by trying to thwart an attorney general's investigation of an alleged death threat by a state official.

Mecham, who completed 13 months in office Monday, also faces a recall election May 17 and a March 9 criminal trial on charges of concealing the $350,000 loan.

The governor, who was elected on his fifth try, came under fire almost immediately after he took office for abolishing the state holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He also quickly alienated voter groups with remarks that women, homosexuals and ethnic groups considered insulting.

"It's a sad, sad day for the state, especially when Republicans have to impeach a Republican governor," said House Majority Whip Jane Hull. She said she was surprised at the strength of the impeachment vote, in which 25 Republicans joined 21 Democrats. Three Democrats and 11 Republicans were opposed.

House Speaker Joe Lane, a Republican, described the hearings and the impeachment as a "tragedy."

Lane said he found the governor's alleged use of public funds at his car dealership and to pay $20,000 on a building he co-owned in Tacoma, Wash., the most damaging of the three charges.

Just hours before the vote, Mecham, in a defiant and often belligerent tone, concluded four days of testimony before the House select committee considering the charges against him.

Mecham predicted that the Senate will acquit him.

In a 10-minute speech at the beginning of today's hearing, Mecham again said the charges against him are part of a conspiracy by local newspapers and the attorney general's office, which indicted him Jan. 8 in connection with the campaign loan.

Mecham was accused, after a three-month House investigation, of trying to conceal the $350,000 campaign loan he received from Tempe developer Barry Wolfson on his personal and campaign financial disclosure statements. House members also considered charges that Mecham transferred $80,000 in public funds from a "protocol fund" to his automobile dealership, $20,000 of which was used to pay on a building co-owned in Tacoma, Wash. The money was eventually repaid to the account with interest.