Paul Babeu, the Arizona sheriff embroiled in a scandal over allegations that he threatened a former male lover with deportation, is ending his candidacy for Congress and will instead run for reelection as Pinal County sheriff.
Babeu, a Republican, posted a statement on his campaign website this morning that he wanted to assure continued leadership in the sheriff’s office and that his chief deputy, Steve Henry, could provide that. But he found out that Henry, his preferred successor, was not eligible to run for sheriff while continuing as chief deputy, because he supervises employees who handle federal funds.
“Chief Henry was left three choices, resign his position as Chief Deputy and run for Sheriff, withdraw his candidacy for Sheriff or transfer to a non-leadership position within our office where he would not supervise anybody who handles any federal funding,” reads Babeu’s statement, also emailed to supporters. “Forget the politics, none of these options are good to maintain continued success of our Sheriff’s Office. I have decided to end our congressional campaign and seek re-election as Pinal County Sheriff. Yesterday, I informed my campaign staff and our finance team of my decision to run for re-election.”
Babeu’s “decision could alter dramatically the direction of both races, as he leaves two major GOP candidates to duke it out for the U.S. House of Representatives in rural northwest Arizona and enters a crowded field for sheriff,” The Arizona Republic reports.
Three months ago, ex-boyfriend Jose Orozco accused Babeu of threatening to have him deported if he revealed their relationship. Babeu denied making the threat, but the episode prompted him to acknowledge that he is gay. At Babeu’s request, the Arizona solicitor general’s office is investigating to determine if Babeu abused his power as sheriff. Also, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether government workers engaged in prohibited activities for Babeu’s congressional campaign, and the Pima County Attorney’s Office is looking into whether his staff illegally destroyed electronic records.
These investigations have made Babeu “damaged goods,” Republican lobbyist Barry Aarons told the Republic. “Sometimes the best thing for a politician to do is to step back, to go underground or go for something safe,” Aarons said.