Longtime US Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona dies at 80

Dec 3, 2022, 3:57 PM | Updated: 5:22 pm
Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Border ...
Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S.744” (Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)
(Photo by Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call)

PHOENIX — Former U.S. Representative Jim Kolbe of Southern Arizona died at the age of 80.

Kolbe served in the House of Representatives for 22 years (1985-2007) as a Republican and was succeeded by Gabby Giffords. He served in the Arizona Legislature before being elected in 1984 to Congress.

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

“Whether when he was in the state Legislature or in the Congress, the man from Patagonia always acted in the best interests of Southern Arizona. Jim was old school Republican in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower — a friend of business and the environment.”

Kolbe was the chairman of the Treasury, Post Office and Related Agencies Subcommittee for four years and he chaired the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Agencies Subcommittee for his final six years in office.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered flags at all state buildings to be lowered to half-staff until sunset on Sunday to honor Kolbe.

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

Kolbe started his political career at 15 as a page for the late U.S Sen. Barry Goldwater in Washington and later served on the board that oversees the page program. He attended Northwestern University and then Stanford, earning 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 for valor.

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

“Congressman Kolbe led a life of remarkable public service,” Ducey said. “A Navy veteran, 11-term congressman, state legislator — even a congressional page for Sen. (Barry) Goldwater — his commitment and dedication were boundless. He was a highly-regarded expert on trade, a champion of the free market and a passionate advocate for the line-item veto. From his community in Tucson, to those in need around the world, Congressman Kolbe had a profound and lasting impact.”

Kolbe announced he was gay in 1996, the second openly gay Republican to ever serve in Congress, after voting against federal recognition of same-sex marriages. He later supported same-sex marriage in a testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013.

He married his husband, Hector Alfonso, in 2013.

More statements made on Kolbe’s passing:

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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Longtime US Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona dies at 80