Arizona GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe dies at 80

Jim Kolbe, a longtime Republican congressman and advocate for gay rights and the environment who represented Arizona for more than 20 years, died on December 3. He was 80 years old.

Her death was confirmed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who ordered flags at all state buildings to be flown at half-staff until sundown Sunday in honor of the former U.S. congressman and state senator.

“Arizona lost a true elder statesman and political powerhouse today,” Ducey said in a statement. “Congressman Jim Kolbe has never shirked his responsibility to our state and nation. We are deeply saddened by his death. “

Mr. Kolbe served in the Arizona Legislature before being elected to the US House in 1984. During his 11 terms in office, he regularly clashed with fellow Republicans over hot-button issues, including free trade and immigration. They failed to eliminate pennies – rounding all cash transactions to the nearest 5 cents – driven largely by the rising cost of zinc, the penny’s main ingredient.

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James Thomas Kolbe was born on June 28, 1942 in Evanston, Ill. When he was 5 years old, his family moved to Santa Cruz County, Ariz. He became interested in politics and government in his teens, serving as a page for Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) at 15 in Washington. He became a member of the Young Republicans during his early college years at Northwestern University and went on to Stanford University, where he earned an MBA in economics.

During the Vietnam War, he served in the Navy and received the Congressional Medal of Valor.

Representative Kolbe announced that he was gay

In 1996, he came out as gay, a decision he said he made reluctantly, preempting a magazine that was about to publish a story revealing his sexual orientation.

“I thought if they were going to do that, it was time for me to stand up and be counted on this,” Mr. Kolbe told reporters at the time. “There is little relief; Certainly no embarrassment.”

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Although he once said that being gay was not “my defining personality”, Mr. Kolbe eventually became a torchbearer for gay rights. In a 2006 interview with the Tucson Citizen, the retired congressman called the GOP’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research “a terrible mistake.”

“As much as social conservatives don’t like to hear it,” he told the magazine, “there will be a time when your grandchildren will say: ‘What was the argument with same-sex marriage? Who cares?'”

In 2013, she married her longtime partner Hector Alfonso, a Panama native and longtime special-education teacher, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Tributes poured in from both sides of the political aisle following news of Mr. Kolbe’s death. Democrat Katie Hobbs, who narrowly won Arizona’s governor’s race in last month’s midterms, wrote on Twitter He will “always be remembered for his legacy of bipartisanship, as a strong voice on the international stage and as a champion for Arizonans.”

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Mr. Kolbe’s interest in foreign diplomacy continued beyond his term in Congress. In a July article in Foreign Policy, he argued that the United States should increase its engagement with Pacific island nations as China expands its footprint in the Asia-Pacific region, including the recently signed security agreement with the Solomon Islands.

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Sharon Branson, chairwoman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors; Explained him “An old-school Republican in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower — a friend of business and the environment.”

While in Congress, his leadership helped preserve “wild places and cultural treasures,” such as the Canova Ranch, a 4,800-acre conservation park in Green Valley, Ariz., and the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area — a rare, lush green river zone in a desert state where many rivers are bone dry.

Brian Murphy contributed to this report.


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