Reporter: Claire Doan
FLORENCE, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – A big shakeup in Arizona politics: Pinal Co. Sheriff Paul Babeu is dropping out of the race for Congress and beginning his campaign for a second term as that county’s top cop.
The first-term sheriff and rising star in GOP circles has been dogged with controversy since the start of his congressional bid, but he tells KGUN9 News his decision has nothing to do with that – and everything to do with his promise to Pinal County residents.
"I'm invested. I've lived here for a decade. We've dramatically improved service and I don't want to lose that," Babeu said. “I have brought enough shoulders to take the fight and sustained through that. In fact, our campaign was going very well, not only in terms of voting numbers but the strength."
And yet he is walking away from his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives because -- he said -- the U.S. Office of Special Counsel stipulates that his right-hand man Steve Henry cannot run for sheriff while serving as Chief Deputy – and Babeu is not assured that Pinal County will be in good hands otherwise.
Reporter Claire Doan asked Babeu why – if he backed up Henry – he doesn’t just let him resign to run for sheriff.
“That’s a discussion we’ve had and there’s other issues. I’m not going to speak for him but I do know he doesn’t have 20 years as a pension,” Babeu said. “There’s realistic financial issues as well that are brought to bear.”
Babeu’s announcement is a surprise, but is in many ways inevitable – given the allegations he’s faced since his ex-boyfriend accused him of abusing power. The Sheriff has strongly denied he threatened to have Jose Orozco deported if Orozco didn’t keep quiet about their relationship. But that experience did leave Babeu with one regret.
“I was open to my family and certain friends, but I wish I had disclosed this private information that I didn’t think mattered, that I didn’t think should be in the public realm because I don’t define myself that way,” Babeu said.
The Sheriff said the tide of controversy against him is politically motivated – and he’ll soon be exonerated when the allegations prove to be false, but that those challenges didn’t factor into his choice.
“Some people are saying, ‘You’re just getting out because of that.’ Well, if it was I would’ve gotten out two months ago. I don’t run from a fight. I never have,” Babeu said.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office is investigating whether Babeu’s office illegally destroyed thousands of emails. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether he or his employees violated the Hatchet Act, which bars government workers from engaging in certain political activities.