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Symington Gone, Arizona’s New Governor Takes Office

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The change at the top took place almost imperceptibly as Fife Symington’s resignation as governor became official Friday and power passed to his secretary of state, Jane Dee Hull.

The only sign of the transition was a pair of moving vans in a Capitol driveway. Symington had packed up his mementos and slipped out Thursday night, the day after he was convicted of fraud.

On Friday, movers carted off furniture, paintings from his extensive art collection and dozens of boxed belongings from his ninth-floor office.

His resignation became official at 5 p.m. Hull, a fellow Republican, passed the hour without ceremony, instead scheduling her swearing-in for Monday.

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Hull, 62, becomes the second woman to hold the office in 85 years of statehood. Democrat Rose Mofford served out the term of Republican Gov. Evan Mecham after he was impeached and removed from office in 1988.

Symington left the Capitol for good Thursday, swept out by his conviction on seven federal fraud charges after 6 1/2 years as governor.

A jury Wednesday found he lied to get millions in loans to shore up his collapsing real estate empire.

Symington planned to ask a judge to set aside his conviction before he is sentenced Nov. 10. He theoretically faces more than 100 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines, but legal experts say it’s more likely he’ll serve at least 18 months.

Symington won election in 1991 by portraying himself as a successful businessman who would run Arizona like his development empire. While that venture failed--Symington filed for personal bankruptcy in 1995, listing debts of nearly $25 million--the state’s economy hummed like an air conditioner during his tenure.

Staunchly pro-business, Symington pushed tax breaks for high-tech companies that added thousands of jobs. And he and the Legislature cut income and other state taxes.

“Yes, Symington the man had business and personal problems, but Symington the governor was certainly very successful in moving the state forward in position for the next century,” said Tim Lawless, vice president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

“As time goes forward, people will look back at the Symington administration as very good for all Arizonans,” he said.

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But others say history will regard Symington, the great-grandson of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, as an average governor at best.

“The economy is good in Arizona, but it’s good all over,” said Bruce Merrill, a political pollster and Arizona State University journalism professor. “I think you’re going to see that he left the state in a pretty big mess in many areas.”

Merrill cited a lingering court battle over funding for public schools, a crisis at the agency responsible for investigating reports of child abuse, unresolved American Indian gaming issues and environmental and transportation problems.

Hull, who spent 15 years in the Legislature and served as speaker of the House, is a conservative who says her views aren’t much different from Symington’s.

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“The differences will be in style rather than substance,” she said.

Hull, a former teacher who once taught on an Arizona Indian reservation, said education will be a priority.

“I want to continue the tax-cutting. That’s been great for the state of Arizona,” said Hull, who is expected to seek a full term in 1998.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Arizona judge, will administer the oath of office to Hull on Monday.

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