Two Republicans Challenge Gosar To Represent Rim Country

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Rim Country this year finds itself in a completely new congressional district — but incumbent Rep. Paul Gosar hopes we’ll end up with the same congressman — which would be him.

However, first he’ll have to get through an already wild Republican primary slated for Aug. 28.

Gosar faces Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose campaign has gotten tangled in allegations he threatened to force the deportation of his gay Mexican lover unless his partner promised to keep their year-long relationship a secret. Babeu has admitted that he’s gay, but denied the allegations.

In addition, Lake Havasu City State Senator Ron Gould is running in a redrawn district, which now encompasses all of western Arizona, from the outskirts of Arizona, along the Colorado River all the way up to Utah. Gould has served in the Arizona senate for the past seven years and is running on a vague but staunchly conservative agenda.

On the Democratic side, only teacher, writer, painter and activist Mikel Weisser has so far filed.

Candidates have until May 30 to file, with the general election not until November.

Rim Country this year finds itself in a completely new congressional district — but incumbent Rep. Paul Gosar hopes we’ll end up with the same congressman — which would be him.

However, first he’ll have to get through an already wild Republican primary slated for Aug. 28.

Gosar faces Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose campaign has gotten tangled in allegations he threatened to force the deportation of his gay Mexican lover unless his partner promised to keep their year-long relationship a secret. Babeu has admitted that he’s gay, but denied the allegations.

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Paul Gosar

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Paul Babeu

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Ron Gould

Gosar has represented Rim Country for the past two years, when all of Gila County was nestled into Congressional District 1, which before redistricting included much of rural, eastern Arizona with Flagstaff the largest city.

At that time, Gosar listed his residence as Flagstaff and won the seat with strong Tea Party support after unseating Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, a former state lawmaker and Flagstaff prosecutor.

Kirkpatrick is running again in the now dramatically redrawn District 1, which includes most of the Navajo, Apache and Hopi reservations.

That redrafted Congressional District 1 includes southern Gila County as well as much of north, central and Eastern Arizona all the way down south of Safford. It’s now a toss-up district, with Democrats enjoying a small advantage when it comes to voting patterns.

On the other hand, Congressional District 4 now constitutes an almost bullet-proof Republican seat. Based on past voting patterns, 64 percent of the voters normally vote Republican and only 36 percent normally vote Democrat.

That could explain why Gosar has since shifted his official residence to a house he owns in Prescott, which will allow him to run in a redrawn district that reaches east just far enough to snatch up Payson, but mostly embraces the communities along the Colorado River.

Cities in the redrawn district include Payson, Star Valley, Pine, Strawberry, Cottonwood, Prescott, Ash Fork, Wickenburg, Quartzite, Parker, Lake Havasu City, Kingman, half of Yuma and Colorado City — that infamous polygamous enclave on the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.

Among District 4s registered voters, 42 percent are Republicans, 23 percent are Democrats and 35 percent are “other” but the great bulk of those independents normally vote Republican.

Whites account for 76 percent of the voters, Hispanics for 18 percent and Native Americans and African Americans 2 percent each.

One reason the Independent Redistricting Commission cut Gila County in two was to put the San Carlos Apache Reservation in District 1, where the Native Americans now account for 23 percent of the voters. The federal Voting Rights Act seeks to keep minority communities together to protect their political clout.

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Roundup file art

District 4 now encompasses all of western Arizona, from the outskirts of Arizona, along the Colorado River all the way up to Utah.

The Republican primary in the new District 4 that includes Payson is already shaping up as a bare-knuckle, vivid contest.

The workaholic Gosar won his first public office two years ago as part of the Tea Party driven upheaval that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives thanks to a class of 85 freshman legislators who made slashing taxes while still trying to reduce the soaring budget deficit their top priority. Gosar supported deep spending cuts, broad tax cuts, the effective privatization of Social Security and a confrontational approach to the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Those priorities helped produce a near shutdown of the government, more than $1 trillion in spending cuts, a soaring deficit and the elimination of fresh economic stimulus measures.

However, in the primary Gosar has faced criticism for not being conservative enough — in part because he ultimately voted in favor of raising the ceiling on the national debt so the government would not go into default.

Gosar won the endorsement of Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, in part on the strength of Gosar’s success in steering through Congress a law that helped prospects for the construction of the Blue Ridge pipeline by making the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation the lead agency in supervising the construction.

Sheriff Babeu jumped into the race quickly, hoping to build on national recognition for his tough statements on illegal immigration and his blistering criticism of federal border enforcement efforts. He made an early appearance in Payson.

However, his campaign suffered a major setback when allegations about his gay Mexican lover broke into the headlines. Babeu has admitted the relationship, but denied allegations that he threatened to have the man deported if he failed to keep their relationship secret.

Just when it seemed Babeu might weather the storm from those allegations along with the racy cell phone photos released by his ex-lover, Babeu’s own sister made headlines with allegations that he dated a 17-year-old male student when he served as headmaster of a Massachusetts boarding school. Lucy Babeu also said that her brother used unconventional disciplinary methods, like making misbehaving students take off their clothes and wear only a sheet.

Babeu has denied ever having a sexual relationship with a student. A law firm affiliated with his campaign then released information about his sister suggesting she had mental health issues and had lost custody of her children.

So far, State Sen. Gould has offered a less sensational contrast to Gosar. The former Lake Havasu City council member and owner of an air conditioning and heating company has served on senate committees dealing with the budget, government reform, water and the judiciary.

Gould pushed a 2008 state constitutional ban on gay marriage and has regularly voted with the right wing of one of the nation’s most conservative Legislatures. For instance, he’s a prominent supporter of legislation that would force colleges to allow students to carry guns on campus unless the college provided gun lockers outside each building.

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