Maybe 2016 Will Be the Year Voters Elect an Openly Gay Republican to Congress

Sheriff Paul Babeu wins primary, focusing heavily on border fears.


Paul Babeu
Will Seberger/ZUMA Press/Newscom

In 2014 America came so close to electing an openly gay Republican to Congress. Two candidates on opposite sides of the country, Carl DeMaio in California and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, landed their party's nominations, but lost in the general election.

It's a trend worth noting because a success here serves as an indicator of Republicans and conservatives further turning away from an attitude that there's something bad or wrong about being gay and a push away from government policies that are influenced by sexual orientation. Also, Tisei and DeMaio both had some libertarian-friendly positions in their platforms (DeMaio had previously worked with the Reason Foundation as an independent contractor on pension reform).

As of Tuesday night's Arizona primary, we now have Paul Babeu, the Republican sheriff of Pinal County in Arizona. He won last night's primary and will be facing Tom O'Halleran, a Democrat and a former Chicago police officer, to replace Ann Kirkpatrick as the representative for Arizona's 1st District. Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, is challenging Sen. John McCain for his seat in November.

If elected, Babeu would not be the first gay Republican to serve in Congress. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe, also of Arizona, both came out of the closet while serving. Babeu would be the first to actually be elected as an openly gay man. Kolbe, incidentally, has endorsed Babeu.

As a candidate, Babeu is a bit of a mixed bag for libertarians. He is a hardcore border security and control advocate and is very vocal about saying America has "complete lawlessness" on immigration enforcement. He holds President Barack Obama responsible for any crimes committed by illegal immigrants within the United States.

He's also a hardcore drug warrior and promotes on his campaign site the fact that his sheriff's office was responsible for the largest drug bust in Arizona history. These two positions appear intertwined. In May he warned hikers and campers to be wary of "Mexican drug assassins" operating his county. When Vice News investigated, they couldn't find much evidence that there was a serious problem.

On the other hand, much of his economic platforms are pro-innovation and pro-freedom. He's against the Enivornmental Protection Agency's and the Obama administration's meddling in coal power operations, but also supports the development of renewable energy. He's very critical of EPA regulatory overreach, which is a hot-button issue in a state like Arizona with a lot of federal land. He's pro-gun rights, and anti-Common Core.

Babeu's public coming out story is also tied to his strong immigration positions due to an odd scandal from 2012, the first time he attempted to run for Congress. He came out of the closet publicly following accusations from an ex-lover who also happened to be an illegal immigrant from Mexico, claiming he was threatened with deportation after the relationship turned sour. An investigation by Arizona's Attorney General's office cleared Babeu of any wrongdoing, but he nevertheless dropped out of the race for Congress. This will be his second attempt, and it appears as though he's going to be heavily focused on getting out votes on the basis of immigration, energy, and local control issues.