Against a backdrop of uniformed personnel and political supporters, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu on Saturday denied allegations that he and his attorney tried to intimidate a former boyfriend into keeping quiet about their relationship and declared he would stay in the race for Congress.
Babeu, 43, who has been a rising Republican star, called the charges, first published Friday on the Phoenix New Times website, “completely false” and characterized them as a ruse to out a conservative law-enforcement leader as gay, a fact he publicly acknowledged for the first time.
“I’m here to say that all these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely, completely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that’s the truth: I am gay,” he told reporters, photographers and TV camera crews at a news conference in front of his agency’s headquarters in Florence.
Babeu vowed to stay in the 4th Congressional District race in western Arizona, but it was unclear if his defiant denials of wrongdoing were enough to stanch the damage to his political future.
Bruce Merrill, a veteran Arizona political scientist and a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said he thinks the allegations and revelations will deal a fatal blow to Babeu’s campaign.
“You can’t overcome that, if it’s legitimate,” Merrill said. “I would be surprised that he would even continue to stay in the race. That’s the end of his political career.”
Babeu’s supporters at the press conference stood by him, praising his record and character.
Chris Emmons, a police officer and commissioned officer in the military, said he has served with Babeu in different situations and he epitomizes “the warrior ethos” of “service and not self.”
“That’s what he represents for Pinal County, the state of Arizona, and one day, God willing, he will be there in Washington supporting us all,” Emmons said.
The New Times reported that a Mexican man identified only as Jose alleged that Babeu and his attorney, Chris DeRose, threatened that he could be deported if he didn’t sign an agreement not to disclose his romantic affair with Babeu, who has a national reputation as a border-security hawk. Babeu said Saturday that he had “a personal relationship” with Jose, who volunteered on his political campaign, and acknowledged that provocative photographs of himself that accompanied the story on the New Times website were authentic.
“In regards to this whole idea of deportation, at no time did I or anyone who represents me ever threaten deportation — ever,” Babeu said. “This issue was the vehicle in which this (his sexual orientation) could be brought out publicly.”