Arizonans Judging Sheriff Babeu's Poor Judgment

We'll never be able to view the Pinal County sheriff quite the same. On Thursday afternoon, February 16th, things changed ... both for Paul Babeu and for all of us.

It's about that photo of the sheriff soliciting sex on the internet.  

It's impossible to erase the image of him standing in front of the bathroom mirror snapping a photo of himself dressed only in his underwear.  The burst of the flash bulb reflected in the mirror and that pleased look on his face and the giant gothic tattoos on his arms are burned into our memories forever.  

What was he thinking? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Babeu, "the second toughest sheriff in America," appeared in front of the TV cameras outside of his office 48 hours later and went on the offensive.  He admitted he was "a gay man."  However, he vehemently denied he had threatened to ship his spurned Mexican lover, who may or may not be in the U.S. legally, back to Mexico to shut him up about their affair. Babeu also reminded us of his resume - which includes distinguished service in the military and his  commitment to the war on the Mexican drug cartels since being elected sheriff.  

But as the shaved-headed sheriff stood in his freshly-starched uniform with the polished black utility belt cinched tightly around his waist, we began to see him much differently.  On that warm Saturday morning in Florence, Babeu's carefully-crafted image melted away.  The sheriff stood in a puddle of his former self.

For all intents and purposes, Paul Babeu might as well have joined The Village People to play the part of a man merely impersonating a law enforcement officer.   

Ego in Over-Drive

Politicians are often the last ones to recognize and then admit they're in a pickle.  And that's Sheriff Underpants' problem.  

Babeu is pressing on with his Congressional campaign in the newly-drawn CD-4.  Pride prevents him from doing otherwise.  He's traveling the district meeting with Republican groups hoping they will overlook his indiscretions.  But the sheriff's support is shrinking.  So far the campaign has only been successful in pinning down seldom targeted Fruit of the Loom voters.

How bad is it for Sheriff Underpants?

Even his long-time friends at conservative talk radio station KFYI are having second thoughts about their go-to-guy on border issues.  The hosts are bending over backwards to explain that they're not getting skittish about supporting the sheriff because he's gay - but because he has shown such "poor judgment."

In the meantime, the candidate is pleading with people to separate his "private" life from his "public" life.  That's tough for "family values" voters -- especially the ultra-conservative and the tea baggers who comprise the majority of CD-4.

"Self-Inflicted Scandal"

After his hastily-called weekend news conference, Babeu hoped he had dodged a bullet.  But it didn't take long for the media's reporting to catch up to the candidate's rhetoric.  About a week.

It's one thing to do damage control on a story from Florence for a day.  However, it's a different matter to keep control of a state-wide story for any length of time.  The sheriff is finding that out the hard way.

People dancing on eggshells about the issue didn't last long.  And neither one of Sheriff Babeu's competitors in CD-4 have had any pretense about being politically correct.  Congressman Paul Gosar said last Friday, "I find it incomprehensible that Paul Babeu is attempting to take the position of a victim to garner national sympathy for this self-inflicted scandal." Not to be outdone, yesterday State Senator Ron Gould simply said Sheriff Babeu is "not fit for public office."

Those comments are to be expected.  But even the sheriff's sister has gotten into the act by making accusations about his past professional indiscretions.  And John "Build The Dang Fence" McCain, a supporter of Babeu, said yesterday that the sheriff "obviously has some decisions to make."  Which is political code talk for pack it in, Paul.

Paul Babeu's career in Arizona politics is kaput.  

Two Phoenix law firms have already started office pools on when Sheriff Babeu will throw in the towel on his Congressional campaign.  Some members of the news media are speculating about his next career move: underwear model, tattoo artist or jailer in the penal system.  Who knows?

Who can forget White House intern Monica Lewinsky's blue dress ... vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's designer glasses ... or uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's black fedora.

Now there's Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's skivvies.