The Paul Babeu Scandal Should Not Be Brought Up Against Mitt Romney at the Arizona GOP Debate


Last thursday, The Phoenix New Time published an article alleging that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was gay and that his relationship with a man referred to as “Jose” by the paper ended with threat of deportation against the supposedly illegal immigrant. On Saturday, Babeu held a press conference in which he confirmed that he was gay, but denied the allegations about his threats against Jose.

The political linkages of the situation are twofold. For one thing, Babeu is scheduled to run for Congress against Freshman representative Paul Gosar, who, is on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Babeu promised to continue his campaign, despite the allegations. The other connection is to Mitt Romney, who Babeu has campaigned for as a volunteer. Unfortunately, everyone is trying to hold this up as a some sort of argument against Romney and the GOP, but it's not. It's a regrettable incident by a law enforcement officer, and I hope that it is not brought up by anyone (either by the moderator or Romney's competitors) in Wednesday's debate.

Babeu himself is in the wrong. It's very hypocritical for him to style his campaign as that of a strict law-and-order border patrolman while declaring his love for an illegal immigrant. What's worse is the power situation. It's one thing to threaten someone when a relationship goes bad (of course, Babeu denies the threats, but some of the text messages sound pretty threatening to me), but it's even worse to make threats that one can carry out in virtue of being the public officeholder responsible for enforcing the law. 

But I don't think the trail, as of now, goes any further to call into question GOP values or Mitt Romney. Of course, people will try to do both. For instance, Nancy-Jo Merritt,an immigrant lawyer in Phoenix, said in part that federal immigration-enforcement agents have better things to do than "take care of Babeu's boyfriends." To me this is just a non sequitur argument that tries to cast doubt on hard-line immigration policies by making use of this specific example. In reality, it does not call into question the wisdom of a state policy aimed at reducing illegal immigrant populations. Recent research by the CBO shows that illegal immigrants are a net cost to state governments (though possibly a gain to the federal government, setting up interesting federalism questions about how to tackle this issue).

As to the issue of Mitt Romney, I don't think there is one. I'm not sure if anyone is really trying to make this point, but I imagine that there will be the inevitable complaints about Romney's leadership and the way he vetted or thought about the people who were helping him. Of course though, it would be a mistake to press that argument. A candidate for office is not responsible for every single person that carries their standard. Even courting Babeu's endorsement and wider political support would not make his scandal a taint on the Romney campaign, because Babeu was a very minor political player and not someone Romney knew or . Asking for someone's endorsement is different than endorsing that person by giving them a place in one's cabinet or inner circle of advisers. At most, Romney should no longer seek Badeu's support.

To my mind, this incident was handled in the right way by the Romney campaign. On Saturday, Romney's campaign spokesman, Ryan Williams said, "Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him. We support his decision."

The real story, if there is one, is probably about the Republican attitude toward homosexuality. Apparently, Jose tried to out Babeu as a gay, but there aren't many details yet. The whole thinks feels very much like a case of “he said, he said,” but the whole thing would probably not have come up if there was no stigma attached to being gay. There is speculation that Babeu's political opponents wanted to make an issue of sexuality, but resisted until now when there is a plausible ulterior motive for raising the issue. 

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore