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Kimble: Bee, Kolbe part ways, won’t say why

Bee: "Jim has some personal things going on now that he needs to focus on."

Bee: "Jim has some personal things going on now that he needs to focus on."

This much is known: Jim Kolbe will no longer play a role in the campaign of Tim Bee who is running for Kolbe’s former seat in the U.S. House.

Beyond that, speculation rules since neither Bee nor Kolbe will say much about Kolbe’s decision to move from co-chairman of Bee’s campaign to nonparticipant.

It may take an Enigma cipher machine to really figure out who is saying what.

An initiative on the November ballot to change the state constitution to ban gay marriage may or may not play a role in all of this. But either way, Bee must be regretting his involvement in this sticky, no-win mess.

Kolbe’s decision to distance himself from fellow Republican Bee was a stunning six-month turnaround.

On Jan. 19, Kolbe stood at Bee’s side as Bee announced he would run against Democratic incumbent Gabrielle Giffords for the U.S. House in District 8 – a seat that Kolbe held until he retired in 2006.

When Bee stressed his commitment to bipartisanship, Kolbe told reporters, “That’s what we need in Washington.”

Kolbe’s support went beyond that. Just last month, Kolbe opened his Washington, D.C., townhome to host a fundraiser for Bee. And now Kolbe is out, with neither man saying why.

Tom Dunn, spokesman for Bee’s campaign, said Kolbe sent Bee an e-mail last week saying he would no longer be active in the campaign. “We’re thankful for his support,” Dunn said, refusing to explain why Kolbe disassociated himself from Bee.

In a telephone interview, Kolbe was no more forthcoming, saying he would “not have a long, protracted discussion” about the matter.

Kolbe wouldn’t even say if he still supports Bee. “I’m not going to get into playing that game,” he said.

Kolbe did say that “certainly the campaign knows the reason I withdrew.” Kolbe said he wouldn’t disclose that reason but the Bee campaign “can talk about it as much as they wish.”

Dunn didn’t wish to talk about it at all. Why did Kolbe bow out? “For personal reasons.” Did Kolbe give Bee a specific reason? “I won’t say.” Was there an attempt to persuade Kolbe to change his mind? “I can’t disclose that.” How much money did Kolbe raise for Bee at his townhouse fundraiser? “Those reports will be available next week.”

Bee, in an interview this week, had a different take: “Jim has some personal things going on now that he needs to focus on.”

But those “personal things” apparently aren’t keeping Kolbe from being involved in other campaigns. “I’ll be active, just not in that campaign,” Kolbe said. In fact, Kolbe is hosting a fundraiser Thursday for Pete Hershberger, a moderate Republican running for the state Senate.

So let the speculation begin.

Kolbe sent his e-mail to Bee about a week after the Legislature voted to put on the ballot an initiative to amend the state constitution to say marriage is between only a man and a woman. Gay couples need not apply.

Kolbe is gay. The initiative passed the state Senate with 16 votes – the bare minimum needed. As Senate president, Bee voted last. It was his support that sent the measure to the ballot.

Coincidence? “You can speculate to that all you wish,” Kolbe said.

The marriage constitutional amendment has been nothing but painful for Bee, who inexplicably introduced it in the Legislature this year.

Bee said he acted because he had “thousands” of calls and e-mails from people wanting a chance to vote on the amendment. “No issue had more communication to our office,” he said.

But Bee hasn’t given a lot of thought to the underlying issue. In a visit this week with the Tucson Citizen Editorial Board, Arnie Bermudez, the Citizen’s cartoonist, asked Bee a logical question: Why shouldn’t gay couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples?

Bee was speechless. He looked at his aide, Dunn, then back at Bermudez. For an uncomfortable 15 or 20 seconds, he said absolutely nothing hunting for an answer.

Then Bee said he “was not judgmental,” “likes people of all persuasions” and feels “the core family is an important thing.”

This is not an issue Bee wants in this campaign. But Kolbe’s absence will not let it go away.

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV (Channel 6). He may be reached at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4662.


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