Babeu wins in Arizona
November 14th, 2012
Amidst the many wins for our community – marriage, legislators, and even the first openly gay US Senator (no, a certain bachelor from a southern state doesn’t count) – it was difficult to note all the changes and interesting results of the election. And one story which I had been following was overlooked.
Paul Babeu, the openly gay conservative sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, was re-elected. Also elected was Lando Voyles, Babeu’s hand-picked candidate for Pinal County Attorney.
This is an interesting turn of events in that it runs counter to presumptions about rural conservatives and anti-gay attitudes.
Paul Babeu sought to leverage his position as Sheriff into a Congressional seat. But in February, the Phoenix New Times – disliking Babeu’s political positions – ran a story on him which was designed to discredit him with his constituents. Assuming that those who supported Babeu would desert him if they knew he was gay, they ran a story about him threatening a former boyfriend with deportation. To their surprise, Babeu immediately acknowledged his orientation – and endorsed marriage equality and open military service – but fought the accusation of misuse of power.
Over the next month, the Phoenix New Times doubled down on their story, regularly adding sensational tidbits, seeming to hope that Pinal County voters would be turned off by seeing their sheriff in his underwear (provided by the ex-boyfriend) or reading his personal text messages. In the process, they veered into blatant homophobia, calling for Babeu to be fired for joining a gay dating site and ratcheting up the implication, “don’t vote for Babeu, see he’s GAY!!” And Babeu eventually dropped out of his congressional race and ran for reelection as Sheriff.
However, by the end of their effort, it seemed increasingly evident that this was a personal vendetta for the New Times and they lost much of their credibility. Rather than discredit Babeu with his constituents, this may have became a moment when they decided that they preferred openly gay, marriage-supporting conservatives to straights who they believed would be less law-and-order. And so not only did they reelect Babeu, but they confirmed his choice for County Attorney. Which, while odd progress, is progress.
It will be interesting to see how this develops.
When gay Democrats began to gain access and influence a few decades back, it was not always with joyous acclaim; there were period of tolerance in which some more conservative or older Democrats may not have supported our rights but were willing to work with specific gay politicians. They were seen as “our gay politician”, accepted despite long-established prejudices. And slowly, through time and familiarity, “our gay politicians” broke down stereotypes and presumptions. Though I’m no fan of Barney Frank, he was effective in transforming many Democratic leaders from being tolerant of “our gay politician” to support for the gay community.
I think that for many Pinal County Republicans, Paul Babeu might be seen “our gay politician”. They may be unsupportive of our community in general and even dislike “those other liberal gay politicians”, but be able to find ownership of this one. I wonder if Babeu can be effective in gradually breaking stereotypes and engendering support.