Republican Sheriff Paul Babeu, Outed as Gay by Ex-Lover, Running Again for Congress

The last time Republican Pinal County Sheriff Babeu ran for Congress on an anti-illegal immigration platform, his Mexican lover outed him as a gay man and accused him of blackmail in a bombshell tale reported first in New Times.

Babeu pulled out of the 2012 race in the middle of the debacle and set his sights lower, vying for – and winning – re-election as sheriff.

Now, with the public's memory of the scandal fading almost four years later, Babeu announced today that he's running for Arizona's open 1st Congressional District.

Babeu published his decision on his website and Twitter account, highlighting stereotypical GOP issues like gun rights, immigration crackdowns, and everything President Obama has done in office is bad.

"I will work tirelessly to protect the residents of rural Arizona, shrink the federal government, overturn Obamacare, and guard against attacks on the 2nd Amendment," he wrote. "Illegal immigration impacts us all. I’ve stood on the front lines against the drug cartels and human smuggling rings and I will bring this same tenacious work ethic to Washington, D.C.”

When their relationship soured, Orozco claimed Babeu had threatened to have him deported unless he signed a contract swearing him to secrecy.

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Babeu also says he'll work to “improve forest health” and fight against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to shutter coal plants in the expansive 1st  District, which covers much of eastern and northeastern Arizona, including the Navajo Nation.

The Congressional opening already is shaping up to be a competitive slug-fest. Incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, made a bold move in May to run against U.S. Senator John McCain in 2016. While some Democrats have expressed confidence that the seat will remain Democratic, Babeu's not the only Republican who thinks he can win it.

State House Speaker David Gowan also announced plans today to run for the office. On the Democratic side, former Republican state lawmaker Tom O'Halleran, who seeks the Democratic nomination, launched his campaign in August.

However his accomplishments stand up against competitors, there's little question that Babeu has the most baggage.

Politically ambitious since he was a teenager, Babeu won a city council seat at age 18 in his hometown of North Adams, Massachusetts. Working as a school administrator and also in the U.S. National Guard, where he eventually achieved the rank of major, Babeu lost two campaigns for mayor of North Adams – the second in 2001 – before moving to Arizona in 2002. He worked for a few years as a Chandler police officer, then ran successfully for Pinal County sheriff in 2008, becoming the county's first Republican in the position.

Babeu spent his first few years in office here as a closeted gay man. One of his boyfriends was a campaign volunteer named Jose Orozco, a Mexican national who at some point in their relationship may have been undocumented.

When their relationship soured, Orozco claimed Babeu had threatened to have him deported unless he signed a contract swearing him to secrecy. Still unclear, though, is Orozco's exact immigration status at the time – a campaign consultant for Babeu reportedly told others that Orozco's visa had expired.

Orozco shared his allegations, along with details and photos of Babeu's dating-website profile, with New Times in February 2012. Among other things, Babeu had described his penis and shared a picture of himself online wearing nothing but underwear.

The resulting cover story — complete with romantic pictures of Orozco and Babeu together — exploded, leading to months of coverage by national news outlets. Babeu eventually pulled his bid for Congress and focused on keeping his sheriff's job.

A seven-month investigation by the state Attorney General's Office concluded that Babeu hadn't committed a crime, though Orozco could have committed a misdemeanor by accessing Babeu's Facebook and Twitter sites without authorization. No charges were filed against either man.

Orozco filed a $1 million claim with Pinal County against Babeu, but the county rejected it, and Orozco never followed up with a lawsuit.

Now Babeu's emphasizing illegal immigration again for his new campaign – for him, it's clearly an issue that's close to his heart.
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern