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King holiday hot issue in Arizona

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Even before taking office, Republican Gov.-elect Evan Mecham has become embroiled in a dispute over whether Arizona will join the majority of states with a holiday to honor the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When Mr. Mecham takes office Jan. 5, ``he's getting no honeymoon from anyone,'' said state House Minority Leader Art Hamilton, a Democrat from Phoenix and a leader of the pro-King holiday supporters.

``This has become an issue on which you choose up sides,'' Mr. Hamilton said. ``The most unfortunate legacy of this whole foolish fight [is that] the King holiday will have become an issue of divisiveness.''

Last spring, the Legislature voted against following the federal government in scheduling a holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader on the third Monday in January. The Senate barely passed the measure, but the House fell one vote short.

Not long afterward, Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat who did not run for re-election, issued an executive order creating a King holiday for state employees. Forty states observed the holiday in 1986.

Mecham maintained throughout his gubernatorial campaign that he wanted to rescind Mr. Babbitt's order, and he reiterated his plans to do so the day after his election.

The matter has caused enough controversy to take attention away from Mecham's other campaign issues, including his plan to begin a voluntary drug-testing program for state employees and his proposal to cut the state police by 300 officers.

In a meeting with community leaders, Mecham refused to discuss the King holiday issue, saying his mind was made up. He also has declined to say whether he would sign a King holiday bill if the Legislature passes one in 1987.


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