Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, 11-term member of Congress, dead at 80

Jim Kolbe entered Congress after the 1984 elections, when President Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism was winning over some Democrats.|| University of Arizona.

By Ronald J. Hanse || Arizona Republic

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe, a moderate Republican from Tucson who advocated free trade and liberalized immigration rules during his 22 years in Washington, has died at age 80.

“Pima County and Southern Arizona could always count on Jim Kolbe,” Sharon Bronson, the Pima County Board of Supervisors chair, said Saturday in a written statement announcing his death. “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.

“The preservation and conservation of beloved wild spaces and cultural treasures like Canoa Ranch and the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area are the result in large part to Jim’s leadership while in the Congress.”

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey eulogized Kolbe Saturday as “a true elder statesman and political powerhouse.”

“Congressman Jim Kolbe never wavered in his responsibility to our state and nation,” Ducey said in a written statement on Twitter. “We are deeply saddened by his passing.”

Kolbe entered Congress after the 1984 elections, when President Ronald Reagan’s sunny optimism was winning over some Democrats, and left in 2007 as partisanship deepened, making it more difficult for Republicans to compete in southern Arizona. 

He departed Washington out of sync with the GOP in important ways: He was gay, supported abortion rights and a guest-worker program to help manage the growing restlessness about the nation’s immigration system. 

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