Ex-Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu hearts the shiny badge and spiffy uniform of his erstwhile office so much that he seems loath to relinquish it online.
And if you didn't know better, you might think that Babeu still is the sheriff, based on his social media presence and his website, which show the smiling, follicle-challenged former lawman wearing his PCSO uniform as if the past year never happened.
Babeu remained sheriff during the Republican's campaign to represent Arizona's First Congressional District, and he milked his uniform and his office for all it was worth: wearing it during his ad nauseam appearances on Fox News, at his showboating press conferences, and the time he took then-GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson on a helicopter ride to the border.
But Babeu lost the Congressional race to his Democratic rival Tom O'Halleran by seven points in November's general election. Pinal County elected a new sheriff, Republican Mark Lamb, and Babeu's tenure ended at midnight on December 31.
From November 8 onward, Babeu was like a man racing against the hourglass, appearing numerous times on Fox Business, Fox News and Fox 10 Phoenix, attired in his tan uniform. The hosts called him sheriff and allowed him to bloviate about everything from then-president-elect Trump's immigration plans to a terrorist attack in Germany.
And the anti-immigration stalwart pushed it right up to the edge, wearing his uniform on a Fox News show dated December 30, hosted by Kimberly Guilfoyle.
Since then, he has continued to appear on cable news shows, most recently on CNN's Erin Burnett Out Front , but in a suit.
Burnett called him the "former Arizona sheriff," but she deferred to him as an expert on tunnels made under the border by human smugglers. As Arizonans know, Pinal County is not on the border and Babeu never has been a border sheriff.
Apparently Babeu can continue to be sheriff online all he wants, at least according to Jack Lane, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which maintains the standards that law enforcement personnel must follow.
Lane told New Times that there's only one state statute that covers the topic, A.R.S. 13-2411, but that would not apply to Babeu, because in order to be guilty of it, an individual would have to attempt to convince someone that they are a cop and then induce someone to submit to his or her authority.
"Someone getting dressed up in a uniform to go out and play, there's really no statutory authority," he said. "There's no rule against it or anything like that."
Still, Babeu's portrayal of himself online rankles some. Pinal County activist and persistent Babeu critic Roberto Reveles, for one, thinks it's misleading.
"He still is promoting himself as a gun-toting sheriff, with hand on gun," Reveles told New Times. "This guy is leading a delusional life."
Reveles believes that Babeu, who lives in Casa Grande, is "auditioning" for a job with the Trump administration, or any other gig he can get.
Problem is, Babeu has more baggage than Sky Harbor, and any government position, even in a Trump administration, will involve vetting.
"And that's when they will run up against Babeu's creepy background," Reveles said.
Babeu's "creepy background" is one reason he is not a congressman today. A 1999 home video, released to the media by Babeu's sister Lucy, showed Babeu discussing the bizarre, sometimes cult-like practices of Massachusetts' now defunct DeSisto School for troubled teens, where Babeu once served as headmaster and executive director. Babeu had denied being aware of such abuses.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC hammered Babeu, pouring nearly $3 million into the race, most of it for TV commercials featuring that damning home video. Wisely, the National Republican Campaign Committee put next to nothing into the CD1 race, refusing to come to Babeu's aid, and the sheriff sank like a North Korean rocket over the Sea of Japan.
But like that scary little girl in The Ring, Babeu never says die, even though he has plenty of other scandals trailing behind him in addition to DeSisto, and they would rear up if Babeu ever got close to scoring a position at, say, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Border Patrol.
New Times left a message for Babeu on his cellphone, asking for a comment, but he has yet to return the call. .
To be fair, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio still uses some of the trappings of his office online, and Babeu is not the first former politician to use images from his or her time in office on social media. Though, Babeu's activity in this regard seems particularly desperate.
After all, Babeu needs a job, so he can try to rebuild his career.
"I'm afraid that he will probably be offered a position," sighed Reveles of Babeu's chances for a government gig. "Meanwhile, he is holding onto that [uniform] like a security blanket."
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