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Paul Babeu, gay Arizona sheriff, drops congressional bid

May 11, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu answers allegations that he threatened to deport his former lover, during a news conference at the Pinal County Sheriff's office in Florence, Ariz., in February.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu answers allegations that he threatened… (Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona…)

Paul Babeu, the Arizona sheriff who announced that he was gay after he was accused by a former lover of abusing his power, has dropped his bid for a seat in Congress and will seek another term as sheriff.

In a letter on Friday to supporters, Babeu said he decided to withdraw because of complications about the succession of his chief deputy, Steve Henry, as Pinal County sheriff.

The federal government had ruled that Henry is unable to seek the sheriff’s office while serving as chief deputy because the office receives federal funds, the sheriff said. That ruling would could have forced the chief deputy to resign so he could run for sheriff.

 “Forget the politics,” Babeu wrote, adding later, “I have decided to end our congressional campaign and seek reelection as Pinal County Sheriff."

He said his decision is rooted in a promise he made to residents of Pinal County "that I would ensure continuity of leadership in the Sheriff's Office. Chief Deputy Steve Henry's candidacy not only ensured continuity of leadership, it also safeguarded the improved service we've delivered to Pinal families with the same passion and commitment since taking office."

In his message, Babeu, a noted conservative who has been tough on illegal immigration and other border issues, made no mention of the incident that led to his announcement about his sexuality.

In February, the Phoenix New Times reported that Babeu had threatened his former boyfriend Jose Orozoco with deportation if he spoke publicly about their relationship.

In interviews, Babeu acknowledged the relationship but denied that he had abused the power of his office by threatening Orozoco, 34. Babeu also announced that he supported same-sex marriage, which put him at odds with most other conservatives.

Amid the controversy, the sheriff stepped down as state co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. Orozoco has since filed a notice of intent to sue the sheriff and the county.

Babeu first came to national attention in a 2010 reelection campaign ad for Sen. John McCain when the pair walked along the state’s border with Mexico, urging tougher enforcement.

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 Michael.muskal@latimes.com

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