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In Defense of Sheriff Paul Babeu

This weekend, Pinal County, AZ Sheriff Paul Babeu resigned his post as Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign manager amid revelations about his private life, and allegations of personal misconduct. These allegations may also endanger Babeu’s prospects for a U.S. Congress seat.

The question of the hour, then, is this: Are the allegations true? Did he, a nationally-known figure in the battle over illegal immigration, have a sordid relationship with an illegal immigrant and then threaten him with deportation to keep the relationship secret?

I think it’s important to tell the full story of Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Babeu was born in North Adams, Massachusetts on February 3, 1969. He is the 10th of 11 children of Raymond and Helen Babeu. His political career began while still in high school, when he rallied against a pay increase for the members of his city council. At age 18, he ran for city council and won, and at age 23- as a recent college graduate- he was elected County commissioner.

After a few failed attempts to run for higher office in Democrat-controlled Massachusetts, he became the headmaster and executive director of The DeSisto School in Stockbridge, Mass., a position he held from 1999 to 2001. At this point of the narrative, an uncomfortable corollary must be made: Babeu, who has publicly spoken about his extensive sexual abuse as a child by a Catholic priest, became the headmaster of a private school for troubled youths. The school was frequently the center of criticism and allegations of abuse of students by faculty, and was eventually closed in 2005. The school’s founder, Michael DeSisto, was something of a megalomaniac who (quoting from the link) “envisioned a string of schools nationally and internationally based on Gestalt psychological principles, and his own therapeutic model”. Mr. DeSisto had also falsified his teaching credentials and educational experience. One, naturally, wonders whether Babeu left due to wrongdoing or due to disgust at others’ wrongdoing.

Following his tenure at DeSisto School, Babeu pulled up stakes and moved from Massachusetts to Arizona, and began a new career as a law enforcement officer. He started out as a patrolman in Chandler in 2002, where he was twice decorated for lifesaving and became head of the police union, and in 2008 became the first Republican ever elected sheriff of Pinal County.

Babeu also served 20 years in the National Guard, rising in rank from Private to Major. He served a tour in Iraq and served in Operation Jump Start.

All of this biographical information tells us something about the man: He is an overachiever with multiple, simultaneous careers, and who has a very finite, closely-guarded private life which takes a backseat to his career(s).

We learned something of that private life this weekend: He is gay. Moreover, his former partner is believed to be an illegal immigrant. We saw photos of Babeu in the nude, and the former partner claims Babeu threatened him with deportation if he revealed the relationship.

Let’s analyze that claim for a moment: I think it goes without saying, but a man in Babeu’s position wouldn’t have to threaten deportation. It would, without question, be “the elephant in the room”. And if I had a dollar for every criminal who has ever claimed police wrongdoing when apprehended, I could own Facebook.

Now we have an uncomfortable choice to make: Is Paul Babeu a sinister man, who seeks ever-increasing power and personal grandeur, and then uses that status to find and exploit vulnerable partners? Or is he a tragic man, whose perpetual quest for self-improvement and good works conceals guilt and shame he carries about his own abuse? As DJ Redman asked in this post, does Babeu’s ‘outing’ constitute a vicious attempt to smear the man, or some very troubling signs of malfeasance?

We all know certain stereotypes of people who live a “dual role” lifestyle: The abused person who makes a series of bad choices about relationship partners; the overachieving, perpetually-single schoolteacher or caregiver who over-devotes themselves to their charges while concealing a sordid and secret private life; and so forth. These stereotypes exist for a reason: such people actually exist.

Therefore, lacking any substantive evidence to the contrary, I prefer to think of Paul Babeu as a “white hat”- a man who, in the finest tradition of our values, has overcome enormous personal grief and struggle; worked harder than most of us could imagine; fought, sacrificed, and become prosperous and popular; and has done tremendous good for, and earned the admiration and loyalty of, those around him. Some of us may not be comfortable with the details of his private life- details he worked diligently to conceal- and others may desire to know more, to ensure there is no sinister aspect to him. This is an understandable precaution, provided it doesn’t slide down a slippery slope to become homophobic paranoia.

I’ve long held a belief that some famous gunfighters- often known for their ‘colorful’ personal lives- sought a noble death as atonement for (real or perceived) past transgressions. Death, then, became a blessed final redemption, rather than something to fear, and having no fear of death made them successful. This is how I perfer to think of Paul Babeu: A man who has sought, for reasons not fully understood by us, a noble life in order to slay his personal demons. Those who have benefitted from his quest- and who, hopefully, will continue to benefit- should respect his privacy and be thankful and supportive of him.

(Photo credit Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia.org)

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  1. Norman Cummins Jr says:

    check out DeSisto where he was..i was there several years before he got there..a vile place..Boston finally got it in the death grip (check with The Commonwealth if you don’t believe me..why they took so long I have no idea)

    • Zed says:

      Norman, thanks for speaking up. It’s utterly mystifying that a man with Babeu’s checkered background (to put it more politely than he deserves) could have risen to such a position of authority.