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Retiring
congressman Kolbe in spotlight

Retiring
congressman Kolbe in spotlight

If Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe was trying to retire quietly, it isn't working out that way. Kolbe confirmed Tuesday that he referred concerns about then-representative Mark Foley to the House clerk's office in 2001 or 2002 after a former page told him Foley had sent him e-mails that made him feel uncomfortable. The revelation is key to the question of when top House Republicans knew about Foley's behavior and whether they should have acted sooner to intervene. It has thrust Kolbe, 64, the only openly gay Republican in Congress, into the spotlight just as he is preparing to leave Washington after 22 years in the House. Kolbe is best known for his advocacy for free trade, international development, and immigration reform. He also has waged a quixotic campaign to eliminate the penny, which costs more to produce than it is worth and which many argue is becoming obsolete. He served on the board that oversees the page program between 1995 and February 2001. He was a page for Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona from 1958 to 1960, and Kolbe's young staffers have described him as a professor-like figure who was willing to make time to discuss the issues of the day with them. Spokeswoman Korenna Cline said Kolbe frequently offers his home to former pages, interns, constituents, and colleagues. ''We joke in the office that we can't keep track of who is staying there,'' she said. ''He's just very generous.'' Kolbe, who is traveling in Europe, has declined interviews about his knowledge of concerns about Foley. It may have been Kolbe's close relationship to the young staffers that led his former page to approach him about Foley. Kolbe said in a statement Tuesday that his office reported the matter to the House clerk and took it up with Foley himself. The page did not report further problems, and Kolbe said he believed the matter was resolved. ''I believed then and believe now that this was the appropriate way to handle this incident given the information I had,'' Kolbe said. It is unclear whether Kolbe's role in the Foley saga will affect his post-Congress employment options. This week he was named one of five finalists to head the Global Fund to Prevent AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the central financing engine of international efforts to fight those diseases. Among his supporters is Jack Valenti, former president of the Motion Picture Association of America and president of the Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In an interview Valenti said Kolbe is ideal for the job because he regularly won consensus while serving as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, export financing, and related programs. ''Members of his subcommittee...trust him, they respect him, and they believe in him,'' Valenti said. (Jennifer Talhelm, AP)

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