Sheriff Paul Babeu quits congressional campaign, will seek re-election as sheriff

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Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu By Catherine Holland Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu By Catherine Holland

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. -- Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is ending is congressional campaign and will seek re-election as the sheriff of Pinal County.

He came to the decision Thursday and made the official announcement Friday morning via e-mail and Twitter.

According to the e-mail, the reason for Babeu's decision was a promise he had made to the people of Pinal County when he first announced his intention to run for Congress.

"I promised the citizens of Pinal County that I would ensure continuity of leadership in the Sheriff's Office," he wrote.

With that continuity in mind, Chief Deputy Steve Henry, whom Babeu calls a "great leader," was set to run for the position of sheriff, but could not do so while serving as chief deputy.

"Chief Henry was left three choices, resign his position as Chief Deputy and run for Sheriff, withdraw his candidacy for Sheriff or transfer to a non-leadership position within our office where he would not supervise anybody who handles any federal funding," Babeu wrote.

The deadline for Henry to take action -- either stay in the race for sheriff or drop out -- was Friday.

"My goal has always been to not only continue the good work Sheriff Babeu has done to bring our Sheriff's Office to the level it is now, but to push forward and continue to be the most professional and efficient Sheriff's Office in Arizona and perhaps in our great nation," Henry said in an e-mail sent to media outlets Friday morning after Babeu made his announcement.

"Forget the politics, none of [Henry's] options are good to maintain continued success of our Sheriff's Office," Babeu continued in his statement. "I ask that you understand my promise to those I serve in Pinal County. ... While serving as Sheriff, I've always kept my promises."

In response to Babeu's early morning announcement, Congressmen Paul Gosar, who would have run against Babeu in the race in Arizona's District 4, released the following statement:

"The decision to enter a race is not easy. The decision to drop out is even harder. I respect Paul Babeu's decision and I believe it was the right one for him personally and the people in the District. I will continue to do as I have since entering this race, and focus on the issues that matter to the people, specifically reigning in the size, scope and spending of the federal government."

Babeu no stranger to controversy

"I'm not afraid of a fight," Babeu told 3TV's Javier Soto Friday morning. "We've been under attack the last few months, but it's nothing new to me."

Earlier this year, Babeu made headlines amidst allegations that he had an affair with a 17-year-old student at DeSisto School 10 years ago. Made by Babeu's sister, those accusations came on the heels of allegations by Babeu's ex-boyfriend, Jose Orozco, that the sheriff threatened to deport him if he revealed their relationship.

Babeu and his attorneys categorically deny all of the allegations.

Orozco's accusations first broke in an explosive Phoenix New Times article by Monica Alonzo in February.

Babeu held a news conference to refute that article.

“I’m here to say that all these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay,” Babeu said during that news conference.

Although his Republican opponents called for him to withdraw his candidacy for Congress and step down as sheriff, Babeu refused, saying he believed he could still win despite what he called political maneuvering.

"You don't have to be a detective to figure this one out," Babeu said, talking about attacks on him, as well as on other state leaders. "We're two and a half months away from early ballots. ... Why is it now -- at election time -- that all of these anvils are being dropped from the sky upon us.

"Certain people with agendas ... if they see that you're under attack, they'll push people aside to try to get a punch in at you," he continued.

None of the controversy of the past several months was mentioned in Babeu's message to his supporters regarding his decision to end his campaign and seek re-election as Pinal County sheriff. Rather, he focused on his accomplishments as sheriff and his desire to continue that work.

"I want to continue to serve as Sheriff"

"Many Pinal residents have asked me to stay as their Sheriff and continue this fight," he wrote. "Many worried that my voice and impact would be lost if elected as one of 435 members of Congress. I was elected because I listen and respond to the people I represent. I want to continue to serve as Sheriff and focus on performance and results of public safety."

With three other Republicans and two Democrats on the ballot, the race for Pinal County sheriff is a crowded one. Still, Babeu, who needs to collect at least 274 signatures in the next three weeks to get on the ballot himself, believes his chances of re-election are good.

"We're in a strong position," he said. "If there's seven or eight or 10 people in the race, bring 'em all in. I'm going to stand and my performance and results."

Babeu, a retired major in the United State Army National Guard who served a tour of duty in Iraq in addition to a 16-month deployment in Arizona along the border with Mexico, was elected Pinal County sheriff in 2008 and assumed office on Jan. 1, 2009. He was the first Republican elected in the county's history.

The National Sheriff's Associated selected Babeu, who started his law-enforcement career as a police officer in Chandler, as America's 2011 Sheriff of the Year.

That's just one of the accomplishments Babeu cites from his time as sheriff.

"We're the only jail in Arizona that's nationally accredited. We run the best jail operation in Arizona," he said. "It's proven. We can quantify these things. I'm going to stand not just on the record, but on the things that we're going to continue to do.

"Nobody disagrees that our sheriff's office is better off that it was four years ago, certainly," he continued. "I do things for the right reasons," he said. "I want to be measured by my performance and by results, not on all this other drama that has no business in the political realm."

With Babeu out of the race for the District 4 seat, it's now a two-man race between Gosar and State Sen. Ron Gould.