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The Outing of Sheriff Babeu

February 19, 2012

Paul Babeu, co-chair of Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign, sheriff of Pinal County, and Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona’s fourth district, was outed by the Phoenix New Times last week.  The New Times reported that Sheriff Babeu and his attorney had pressured Babeu’s former boyfriend to keep their relationship secret.  The ex-boyfriend, identified by the New Times only as Jose, is apparently a Mexican citizen living in the United States.

Babeu made his name as a military man and a crusader against illegal immigration.  He is from Massachusetts, where he began his political career as a high school student, successfully campaigning against a proposed raise for North Adams City Councilors.  The next year, at the age of 18, he was elected to the Council himself.  He was later elected to the Berkshire County Commission, and lost two campaigns for mayor of North Adams.

Babeu spent 20 years in the National Guard, first from Massachusetts and then from Arizona.  During that time, he served a tour in Iraq and more than a year with the Southwest Border Mission of Operation Jump Start, a George W. Bush-era deployment of national guard units to assist the United States Border Patrol.  Babeu says that this mission was enormously successful, achieving a 94 percent reduction in illegal border crossings.

After moving from Massachusetts to Arizona in 2002, Babeu served as a police officer in Chandler, Arizona, before being elected Pinal County Sheriff in 2008 – the first Republican sheriff in Pinal County history.  He is president of the Arizona Sheriff’s Association, and was named national sheriff of the year by the National Sheriff’s Association in 2011.

In short, Paul Babeu has a record and reputation of ambition and accomplishment that is by all appearances hard-earned and well-deserved.  It turns out there’s a fair amount of irony in all of that ambition and accomplishment.

Last Thursday, the Phoenix New Times reported that Babeu had “threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation when the man refused to promise never to disclose their years-long relationship.”  The New Times reported that the threats were made by text and phone, by Babeu to Jose and by Babeu’s attorney to Jose’s attorney.  The threats included an assertion – false, the New Times says – that Jose’s U.S. visa had expired.  According to Jose and his attorney, they were told that if Jose mentioned his relationship with Babeu, it would only bring attention to Jose, who could be deported.

The New Times also reported that Babeu had sent “photographs of himself in his underwear and naked with an erection, and that Babeu maintained a profile on Adam4Adam, which the New Times described as a “website where gay men arrange sexual liaisons.”

The New Times reporting included photos – one shows Babeu with a man identified as Jose, his face obscured.  Babeu has one hand inside the man’s open shirt in a fashion not suggestive of a Platonic relationship.  Another photo shows Babeu standing in front of a bathroom mirror, flashing a photo of himself, tattooed and shirtless, in briefs.

Apparently Babeu had never publicly acknowledged that he is gay, and I can’t imagine that he would have used his candidacy for Congress as a coming out vehicle had he had his choice.  But the photographic evidence really left no room for denial.  So at a press conference yesterday and on his Congressional campaign Web site, Babeu confirmed that he is gay.  But that’s the only thing he’s conceding.

He and his attorney deny threatening Jose with deportation.  They contend that Jose made up the threat up after Jose was caught hacking into Babeu’s Congressional campaign Web site – a claim that the New Times doubts, with some credibility.  As to his Anthony Wiener-like self-portraits, Babeu’s defense is that what he does on his own time is his own business.  In Wiener’s case, as we know, no one was interested in the “his own time, his own business” defense.

The Democratic leadership made quick work of Anthony Wiener after disclosure of his photographic flirtations.  If Republicans don’t do the same for Paul Babeu, they make hypocrites of themselves.

Babeu has stepped down from his position with the Romney campaign.  Although he suggested that he might be refunding money contributed by now-disillusioned campaign contributors, he says he will not withdraw from the Congressional race.  The chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors has called for Babeu to resign as sheriff, but Babeu says he won’t.

Babeu spent 20 years – a full career – in the National Guard.  There is no indication so far that he was asked or that he told, but it seems unlikely.  Questioned now about lesbians and gay men serving in the military, Babeu showed integrity:  he said he supports the right of lesbians and gay men to serve.  Asked about same-sex marriage, he again showed at least some integrity:  he hesitated, then said he “personally” supports it.  The “personally” qualification (as opposed to “politically”?) seems to say that he won’t campaign for gay marraige, or vote for it, or ask anyone else to vote for it, or something like that.

But even that integrity seems to be new-found.  If the threat allegation is true – and the evidence given by the New Times seems to me to support the allegation – it’s disturbing that he would threaten a man he had dated.  The closet is inherently a place of compromised integrity, but an attempt to coerce Jose’s cooperation in Babeu’s closetry goes farther.

If Babeu knew the expired visa claim was false, and still made the threat, then Babeu is not qualified for the law enforcement position of sheriff, let alone a higher office in the United States Congress.

Which brings me to Babeu’s attorney, Chris DeRose, who is also a consultant to Babeu’s Congressional campaign.  Although the matter is not crystal clear, Arizona’s code of ethics for lawyers may well prohibit an attorney using a threat to expose an adversary to deportation proceedings as a tactic to gain an advantage in a civil dispute.  The New Times says that the dispute was over Babeu’s effort to get Jose to promise not to reveal their relationship.  Babeu and DeRose claim that the dispute was over Jose’s hacking the campaign Web site.  Either way, it was a civil dispute.

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