Right Frets Over Sheriff Babeu Scandal: Does Immigration Trump ’Gay Agenda’?
In what has become an all-too-familiar occurrence, an ultra-conservative politician has once again become the center of a scandal. The big difference here is that this one is perplexing right-wingers, because it gives them a "Hobson's choice" between the twin hatreds of gay men and immigrants. The rest of us can only look and wonder (and be amused).
As the sheriff of rural Pinal Country, Ariz., Paul Babeu thrust himself squarely into the public eye as one of the chief opponents of immigration. Moreover, as the sheriff of a county near the Mexican border, and in the one state where immigration has become the hot-button issue, he became both spokesman and symbol of the anti-immigrant movement, as reported here.
He was hoping to parlay that national status into a successful run for Congress -- until, that is, he ran into some publicity that made him another kind of symbol of the immigrant debate. In mid-February, following an expose in an Arizona alternative weekly, Babeu admitted he was gay while at the same time denying allegations that he threatened to deport his ex-lover.
Among Babeu's perceived transgressions was posting shirtless photos of himself on the gay cruising website Adam4Adam. But this presented a situation far beyond the normal coming out: Jose Orozco was a Mexican national and, perhaps, an illegal immigrant himself.
A darling of anti-immigration supporters, Bebeu was a featured speaker earlier in February at the notorious Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. Ironically, several of the attendees posted adsfor gay sex () on Craigslist while they were in town; this, while CPAC had a very public falling-out with ultra-right gay group GOProud, a sponsor of last year's conference and dis-invited to this year's.
Latest in Line of Outed Ultra-Right Figures
Babeu is just one of a long line of anti-gay conservative government figures forced out of the closet, that goes back to Roy Cohn, Sen. Joseph McCarthy's notorious partner in hunting out alleged communists in the 1950s. He died of AIDS in the mid-1980s.
They also include these luminaries:
• Former Idaho GOP U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, charged with soliciting sex from a male undercover copy at the Minneapolis airport.
• Former GOP Florida congressman Mark Foley, caught having sexual e-mail conversations with two former male pages.
• Washington State Rep. Richard Curtis, whom a hustler accused of soliciting sex.
• Ultra-right GOP California Congressman David Dreyer, accused of having sex with male staffers.
• Former California GOP State Sen. Roy Ashburn, caught leaving a gay bar with another man and then arrested for DUI. (He's since come out and admitted his mistakes and hypocrisies while in Sacramento.)
• Right-wing Spokane, Wash., mayor Jim West, recalled by voters after it was revealed he had a long history of gay relationships.
• Glenn Murphy, Jr., the one-time head of the Indiana Young Republicans, who allegedly performed sex on another Young Republican.
The Right's Dilemma: Condemn or Defend?
There's been a firestorm of criticism of Bibeau among conservatives in Arizona and elsewhere, but some have come to his defense. Ironically, because Arizona has strong libertarian roots, openly gay politicians may have a better chance of being elected there than in other conservative-leaning states.
Former Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe retained his seat even after coming out before retiring in 2007. This year, two openly gay Democratic state lawmakers are vying for congressional seats on Aug. 28: Rep. Matt Heinz and state Sen. Paula Aboud, both of Tucson, along with former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Phoenix, also a Democrat, who has said she is bisexual.
Many conservative political analysts, however, believe Babeu's political career is destroyed and he doesn't have a chance of winning.
"There is no question that his budding congressional campaign is over," longtime Arizona Republican political consultant Sean Noble wrote on his blog. "Because it is a Republican primary in a conservative district, it's likely that the thing that hurts him the most is that he was in a gay relationship."
Saying that Babeu also should resign as sheriff "for the sake of the party," Noble contended that his coming out was not the major sin, but allegations that he threatened his ex-lover with deportation. "I don't give a rip about him being in a relationship with a man from Mexico," the analyst wrote. "I care that as a Republican and someone who has repeatedly preached 'the rule of law,' he abused his power and is a hypocrite."
Michael O'Neil, an Arizona public opinion researcher, agreed. "You are elected to public trust, and if you have power as a function of holding a public office, you are not supposed to use that to your own personal benefit," O'Neil told the Prescott (Ariz.) News.
"There's just no question that this will hurt him," Bruce Merrill, senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, told the Phoenix CBS-TV affiliate.
Judging from reader comments on the ultra-conservative blog FreeRepublic, Babeu may not have a prayer. "This dude is finished" was a common refrain.
"I guess Megan McCain is so proud of her turd poker," said one in referencing the ardently pro-gay daughter of John McCain.
"The only real question remaining: who played the boy and who played the girl?" wrote another. "Lord, this society is sick!"
"Pardon me while I throw up," said one comment. "He is just another corrupt queer cop."
Another homophobe contributed this gem: "Who would have thought that the fecal-eaters would be receiving positive press?"
However, other FreeRepublic readers supported Babeu. "But now they find out he is gay, and suddenly he is the enemy," wrote one. "The man is still the same guy he was last week."
"His mistake was not coming out in the first place; all this BS in the leftist media could have been avoided," said another. "He is a conservative and has a great record as Pinal County Sheriff."