For those who think Joe Arpaio is the most interesting lawman in Arizona (or west of the Mississippi, for that matter), you might want to take a gander at the current sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, and then think again.
In 2011 the National Sheriff's Association named Paul Babeu, the sheriff of Pinal County, as the organization's "National Sheriff of the Year." That was fairly heady stuff for the young lawman who had only been a sheriff for three years and had less than a decade of law enforcement experience under his belt.
Babeu, who grew up in Massachusetts and had a background in local politics and running a private school for troubled teens, showed up in Arizona as a member of the National Guard with service experience in the Iraq War. His Guard duties in Arizona brought Babeu into the realm of border security and honed his rhetoric as a spokesman against loose immigration policies. By 2008 Paul Babeu had sharpened his anti-immigration message to such a fine edge that he was able to use it as a jumping-off point in a successful campaign for sheriff of Pinal County. Three years later, after serving as an officer in the National Sheriff's Association, he reaped the benefits of his dedicated work for that organization when it named Babeu as the National Sheriff of the Year. His political experience was proving invaluable in climbing the ladder of law enforcement celebrity.
The next step in Paul Babeu's ascension to the political heights was to run for federal office. He filed as a Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona's 4th congressional district in 2012. However, not long after that bold political stroke, the candidate's personal life began to get dicey. A spurned lover who was also an illegal immigrant revealed that Babeu had threatened to deport him if the lover went public with their relationship - which he did anyway. Babeu steadfastly denied that he had threatened to deport the man, but he soon bit the bullet and admitted that he was gay. He withdrew from the Congressional race and was re-elected sheriff of Pinal County by a comfortable margin. One of his allies in that race was Senator John McCain who declared Babeu to be a "friend" of his.
During that tumultuous time there were also allegations that the state of Massachusetts had investigated the school Babeu had led over alleged physical abuse of students, and Babeu's sister said that he had been romantically involved with a male student at the school. Babeu denied any knowledge of physical abuse of students at the boarding school for at-risk youth, but recently a private video has emerged in which he reportedly boasts of being involved in the abuse. Former students are also speaking out and accusing Babeu of perpetrating physical abuse against students at the school.
Now Paul Babeu has again filed to run for Congress, this time in Arizona's 1st district, the spot being vacated by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick who is trying to unseat John McCain. Babeu won the Republican primary in August by taking 32% of the vote in a heated six-way contest. He now faces another lawman, Tom O'Halleran, of Sedona in the general election. O'Halleran, running as a Democrat, was once a Republican state legislator in Arizona.
Paul Babeu's sisters have endorsed O'Halleran in the upcoming congressional race.
Joe Arpaio and Paul Babeu are both natives of Massachusetts who relocated to Arizona and made names for themselves in the field of law enforcement - names so big that they resonate well beyond the borders of their desert fiefdoms. Both are accomplished glory hogs and both have generated more than their fair share of tawdry publicity. Now Arpaio and Babeu are both entangled in tough election battles that may ultimately spell the end of each of their political careers.
But the dust never settles in Arizona, so who knows? One thing is certain, however: law enforcement hasn't been this entertaining in the Scorpion State since the Earps ran Tombstone!