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THE UNSOPHISTICATESUE LAYBE'S RICHES-TO-RAGS SAGA

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Some of these fears are a little ridiculous. You hear suspicions, for instance, that the police were trying to upset the delicate abortion vote in the legislature by targeting legislators who are pro-choice. You hear it even though Ruben Ortega has no public history of opposition to abortions, and although three of the seven indicted legislators cast their votes with the anti-abortionists every time.

Other fears seem more plausible, such as when observers have worried that Representative Don Kenney, the former head of the House Judiciary Committee, was singled out for his willingness to evaluate anew the way slush funds for law enforcement agencies are administered. The police department and County Attorney's Office have vigorously denied such theories. Yet through the years they have, at the least, created an atmosphere of anxiety in Arizona that these days has ordinary citizens worrying about telephone taps and watching their backs.

No sources from the gay community would allow their names to be used for this story, primarily because of a perception that it behooves them to keep Ruben Ortega unaware of them. Right or wrong, they felt that the macho police department would like to punish gay men. "I believe that Ortega has all the thought processes that attempt to take anyone that does not agree with him and make them more suspect and closely watched," says one prominent gay man.

That is one of the stories behind the story of Sue Laybe: As the list of the indicted grows, their friends are wondering whether colleagues were targeted for their involvement in liberal causes, and are themselves ducking for cover.

And Laybe was friendlier with the gay community than gay activists themselves have wanted you to know. LAYBE HAS PUBLICLY credited her elections to the gay and lesbian population in District 25. Gay activists estimate that perhaps 40 percent of the city's gay people live in Laybe's district, which takes in all of central Phoenix. Laybe says that 19 of the city's 22 gay bars were located there when she began campaigning in '88.

Nonetheless, it was not a given from the beginning that this group would support her. One member of that community remembers that when Laybe first stood up in a committee meeting and announced that she intended to run, he nearly fell off his chair. And his disorientation wasn't the result of delight. "She was the most inarticulate, unpoised, poorly groomed person," he remembers. "And that hair!"

She was also the only Democrat willing to run in a district that had been dominated by Republicans throughout the Eighties. Although she wasn't a complete political novice, having been bitten by the political bug while working on Linda Nadolski's city council campaign and then the presidential effort of Bruce Babbitt, she was so unpresentable that gays didn't think she had a prayer of winning.

They resisted working on her campaign at first. But she persisted in asking for help, and to pacify her, one organizer finally invited her to come along to a gay club on a voter registration drive.

The idea that there was any political influence to be gained at gay clubs was still a very new one. Gays had gotten behind a candidate in an organized way for the first time in '87, when they had campaigned for Representative Bobby Raymond as a way of defeating Trent Franks, who had proposed a quarantine law for AIDS patients. Raymond had visited the clubs, which are the hub of gay society. But even he had lacked Laybe's easy style, a style that surprised everyone.

"Bobby Raymond was the first politician to ever go into a gay club and ask for a vote, but Sue Laybe turned it into an art form. She can work the clubs better than any faggot," says the source, who introduced her around on the registration drive. (He refers to himself easily as a "faggot," and even suggests that Laybe learned to use the term from himself and others like him. Although much of the gay community was outraged when it was revealed that Laybe referred glibly to "faggots" in the AzScam transcripts, this source isn't entirely sure she was insulting anyone.)

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Deborah Laake