Former House Speaker Joe Lane [Courtesy of Arizona Range News]

Courtesy of Arizona Range News

Former House Speaker Joe Lane, whose political career was cut short in the wake of the impeachment of Gov. Evan Mecham, died Thursday in Tucson.

His brother, Charles B. “Doc” Lane, who has lobbied for years for the Arizona Cattlemen's Association, said his brother was at a rehabilitation center following surgery to correct back problems. But Lane said his brother, 78, had been living at an assisted living facility for some time before that.

The Willcox rancher was first elected to the Legislature in 1978 as a Republican from a district including most of Cochise County and portions of Graham and Greenlee counties that had been largely represented by Democrats for years. He was reelected every two years and eventually rose to be speaker of the House after the 1986 election. That was the same year voters elected Mecham as governor.

Mecham quickly got in trouble both politically for rescinding a state holiday for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that his predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, had instituted by executive order. But his real problems arose from two unrelated incidents: a charge of obstruction of justice for telling the director of the Department of Public Safety not to cooperate into an investigation of death threats involving two aides, and loaning $850,000 of inaugural ball receipts which had been in a “protocol fund” to his own Pontiac dealership.

Lane, as House speaker, named attorney Bill French to investigate the allegations. That itself caused a political commotion because French was a Democrat.

What French eventually uncovered led to a 46-14 vote by the Republican-controlled House to impeach Mecham, the first such action ever against a statewide official in Arizona's history. Lane voted in favor of the measure.

Mecham eventually was convicted after a trial in the Senate and ousted from office.

Mecham supporters then targeted him in the 1988 GOP primary, which he lost, but voters elected neither of the Republicans nominated at that time, choosing instead two Democrats to represent the district in the House.

His brother said Joe had no regrets about his role in the impeachment.

“He thought he did the right thing on Mecham,” Charles Lane said.

“He regretted he didn't tell his constituents why he was doing it and what they were going to do about it before all of it got in the press.”

Lane went on to work for Republican governors Jane Hull and Fife Symington.

“I thought the world of him,” Symington said. The former governor said he relied on Lane for the “depth of his experience in government, which as a real help to me as a neophyte.”

Lane, who was divorced, is survived by a son, a daughter and a step-daughter. Service plans were not competed Thursday.

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