PHOENIX – Jim Kolbe, a Republican congressman who represented a heavily Democratic region of Arizona for more than two decades and was a supporter of gay rights, has died. He was 80.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement that Kolbe died Saturday. Ducey ordered the flags to be lowered by sundown on Sunday.
Kolbe served in the Arizona legislature before being elected to Congress in 1984, where he often clashed with fellow Republicans over his support for free trade and a guest-worker program for immigrants.
He reluctantly announced he was gay in 1996 after learning of a national publication that wanted to come out for his vote against federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
He also said he didn’t want to be a figurehead for the gay movement.
“Being gay wasn’t — and isn’t now — my defining personality,” Kolbe said in 1997 during his first speech to a national convention of gay and lesbian Republicans.
Kolbe retired from Congress when his 11th term ended in 2006. He later married his partner Hector Alfonso.
“He belongs to so many people,” Alfonso was quoted as saying by the on Saturday Arizona Daily Star. “He gave his life for this city. He loved Tucson, he loved Arizona.”
Some people might have questioned Kolbe about policy decisions at times, 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 for that.”
Others praised Kolbe for mentoring candidates for political office and environmentalists.
“Pima County and southern Arizona have always had Jim Kolbe counted on,” Pima County Board of Trustees Sharon Bronson said in a statement.
Matt Gress, recently elected to the Arizona legislature, called Kolbe a political pioneer.
“Today, because of Jim Kolbe, being a member of the LGBT community and serving in an elected office has become irrelevant,” he said in a statement.
Kolbe began his political career at age 15 as a page for the late US Senator Barry Goldwater in Washington and later served on the board overseeing the Page program. He attended Northwestern University and 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 was awarded a Congressional Medal of Bravery.
After working in the Illinois governor’s office and in real estate, he entered Arizona politics. Kolbe was elected to the state Senate in 1976 and served until 1982. In 1985 he was sworn into the US House of Representatives, becoming the first Republican since Arizona statehood 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 reforms. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign to eliminate the penny due to the cost of production.
He has repeatedly co-sponsored a bill to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality. He sat on the national advisory board for the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents the LGBT community.
The Daily Star reported that Kolbe left the Republican Party in 2018 and became independent because of then-President Donald Trump, saying: “I didn’t leave my party. The party left me.”
He later wrote a guest column in which he described himself as a Conservative who, according to the paper, would vote for former Capitol Hill colleague Joe Biden in 2020.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/12/03/longtime-arizona-gop-rep-jim-kolbe-dies-at-80/ Longtime Arizona GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe Dies at 80