February 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
GOP Ariz. sheriff comes out after allegedly threatening to deport ex

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (photo by Gage Skidmore via wikimedia commons)

A conservative congressional candidate in Arizona has come out as gay and stepped down from a position on the Romney campaign amid allegations he threatened to deport an ex-boyfriend who’s a Mexican immigrant.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who’s running for the Republican nomination to represent Arizona’s fourth congressional district in the U.S. House, has come under scrutiny after the Phoenix New Times first reported the allegations against him last week.

Jose, a 34-year-old from central Mexico whose last name was not disclosed in the article, told the paper Babeu threatened him with deportation if he were to reveal their years-long relationship.

The Mexican native said he met Babeu in October 2006 on Gay.com, a dating website for gay men. The two allegedly began dating, and Jose helped Babeu with his campaigns by creating and maintaining Babeu’s campaign websites, Facebook page and Twitter account. But after the relationship ended, Jose allegedly faced threats of deportation.

On Saturday, Babeu, first elected as sheriff in 2008 and considered a rising star in the Republican Party, held a news conference and denied all the allegations save one.

“Yesterday, a tabloid article made a number of false allegations about me,” Babeu said. “Only one was true: I’m gay.”

Babeu continued that he should be judged on his service to his country as he continues to pursue election to Congress.

“I want to be judged on my service: 20 years in the military, two deployments — including one in Iraq, a police officer who has responded to thousands of calls for help, and a sheriff who has cut response times while reducing my own budget,” Babeu said. “I hope you will stand with me as we talk about the issues that matter: securing our border and ending the record debt and deficit spending that is stalling our economy and bankrupting the country we all love.”

As part of its report, the Phoenix New Times published text messages Babeu allegedly sent Jose after the relationship ended, including messages saying, “You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process . . . including yourself & your family” and “You have crossed the line. Better get an attorney. You brother will also be contacted.”

Additionally, the paper published semi-nude photos of Babeu that he allegedly sent to Jose and a screenshot of what apparently is his profile for his adam4adam account.

Babeu later reportedly told the Arizona Republic he knows Jose as a campaign volunteer who improperly accessed his campaign website without permission. Babeu’s lawyer, Chris DeRose, provided the paper with a copy of a cease-and-desist order that he said was sent to the former campaign volunteer on Sept. 6 ordering him to stop accessing the site.

According to Talking Points Memo, Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said Babeu has stepped down from his position as co-chair of the campaign in Arizona.

“Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him,” she was quoted as saying. “We support his decision.”

The congressional race in which Babeu is running is contested and other Republicans are seeking the nomination. It remains to be seen whether Babeu will be able to win in the district, which is currently represented by Democrat Ed Pastor, after facing these allegations and coming out.

Even though he was allegedly in a relationship with an immigrant, Babeu has a taken a hard line on the issue over the course of his political career. Upon announcing his candidacy for Congress in October, Babeu decried what he said was the lack of action from the Obama administration to confront illegal immigration.

“Rather than secure our border and enforce the law, what did we see from our federal government?” Babeu writes. “Signs in my county warning Americans to stay away, because the cartels were in control; a lawsuit against the people of Arizona; a declaration that the border is more secure than ever. Meanwhile, 400,000 people unlawfully enter our state every year, tens of thousands with criminal records, some from nations that sponsor terrorism.”

Babeu and the allegations against him have received national attention since the Phoenix New Times reported them last week.

According to Politico, the developments will likely raise three concerns with Arizona Republican primary voters: his sexual orientation, the deportation allegation and the revelation Babeu was in a relationship with an undocumented immigrant while positioning himself as a hardline border protection sheriff.

“If Babeu fails to make it to the primary — or through it — some might point to the Republican Party’s reputation of being hostile to gays as the reason,” Politico reports.

In appearance on ABC News’ “This Week,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Babeu his “friend” and said he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“Well of course Sheriff Babeu is a friend of mine,” McCain said. “I do not know the details except what has been published in the media and I am sure there will be a through and complete investigation if there is any allegations of wrongdoing. All I can say is that he also deserves the benefit, as every citizen does, of innocence until proven guilty.”

Babeu has connection to McCain because the sheriff helped with the senator’s re-election efforts. In May 2010, when he was featured in a McCain TV ad, where the two walk along a steel fence delineating the U.S.-Mexican border. Babeu affirms support for McCain’s immigration plan.

Babeu’s inclusion in the ad was meant to bolster the senator’s credibility on border security during a contested GOP primary race against former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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