Longtime Arizona GOP representative Jim Kolbe dies at 80

PHOENIX (AP) — Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman who represented a heavily Democratic area of ​​Arizona for more than two decades and was a supporter of gay rights, has died. He was 80 years old.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement that Kolbe died on Saturday. Ducey ordered the flags lowered until sundown on Sunday.

Kolbe served in the Arizona Legislature before being elected to Congress in 1984, where he often disagreed with other Republicans over his support for free trade and a guest worker program.

He reluctantly came out in 1996 that he was gay, after learning that a national publication was planning to expose him for voting against federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

He also said he didn’t want to be the poster child of the gay movement.

“Being gay was not — and is not today — my defining personality,” Kolbe said in 1997 during his first speech to a nationwide rally of gay and lesbian Republicans.

Kolbe retired from Congress at the end of his 11th term in 2006. He later married his partner, Hector Alfonso.

File – Dir. Jim Kolbe, R-Arizona, center right, addresses members of the Mexican delegation during the Mexico-United States Interparliamentary Meeting in Valle de Bravo, Mexico March 3, 2006. At left is Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, and at right is Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. Kolbe, a Republican congressman who represented a heavily Democratic area of ​​Arizona for more than two decades and was a supporter of gay rights, died Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. He was 80. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

“He belongs to so many people,” Alfonso said Saturday by the Arizona Daily Star. “He gave his life for this city. He loved Tucson, he loved Arizona.

Some people may have occasionally questioned Kolbe about political decisions, Alfonso said, “but no one could question his integrity and his love for Arizona,” the newspaper reported.

Ducey called Kolbe’s life and service to the state remarkable.

“He once said he was ‘born for the job,'” Ducey said in a statement. “He certainly was and Arizona is better off for it.”

Others praised Kolbe for mentoring aspiring political officeholders and conservationists.

“Pima County and Southern Arizona could always count on Jim Kolbe,” Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bronson said in a statement.

Matt Gress, recently elected to the Arizona Legislature, called Kolbe a political trailblazer.

“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and holding elected office has become irrelevant,” he said in a statement.

Kolbe began his political career at age 15 as a page for the late U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater in Washington and later served on the board of directors overseeing the page program. He attended Northwestern University, then Stanford, where he earned a master’s degree in economics.

From 1965 to 1969 he served in the Navy. He was deployed to Vietnam, where he received a Congressional Medal for bravery.

After working in the Illinois governor’s office and in real estate, he entered politics in Arizona. Kolbe was elected to the State Senate in 1976 and served until 1982. He was sworn into the United States House of Representatives in 1985, the first Republican since the state of Arizona to represent a majority Democratic district in the southern part of the state.

Kolbe was known in Congress for his advocacy of free trade, international development, immigration, and Social Security reform. He also led an unsuccessful campaign to eliminate the penny due to production costs.

He has repeatedly co-sponsored a bill to remove the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality. He served on the national advisory board of the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents the LGBT community.

The Daily Star reported that Kolbe quit the Republican Party in 2018 and became an independent because of then-President Donald Trump, saying, “I didn’t quit my party. The party left me.

He then wrote a guest column calling himself a conservative who would vote in 2020 for his former Capitol Hill colleague, Joe Biden, according to the newspaper.


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