The Two Congresses
n January 8, 2011, a Saturday morning, Democratic representativeGabrielle Giffords was engaged in congressional work in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. She was conducting one of her frequent“Congress on Your Corner” events at which she met and talked with her con-stituents. By 10 a.m. everything was set up—that is, a couple of tables withhandouts and roped posts to allow people to walk one by one to meet the con-gresswoman. The first person to come up was an Army Reservist who wantedto show Giffords his commendation from Iraq. Next, a couple chatted with her.Then federal district judge John M. Roll, who had just come from Mass,thanked Giffords for her help on a judicial matter.What happened next was described by Ron Barber, the lawmaker’s districtdirector: “It’s a bit of a blur, but I saw a man with a gun come into our littleexit. He came in that area, between the two tables. His gun was drawn, and Isaw him shoot the congresswoman. Almost right away, he shot me, and I wentdown.”
The assailant’s spray of bullets was deadly: six people died, includingJudge Roll and the young man who planned the event, Gabe Zimmerman,Giffords’s director of community outreach. Another fourteen were wounded,including the congresswoman and Barber, her district director. The tragicevent for a time made Gabby Giffords, who survived the shooting, one of thenation’s best-known House members.A third-generation Arizonan, Giffords has deep roots in the EighthCongressional District, with its thorny local issues and divided loyalties. Shegrew up in Tucson, riding horses and racing motorcycles competitively. Beforeentering politics, she ran a Tucson tire business started by her father.
Herpolitical independence reflects her hometown. “We are . . . a very diverse com-munity in so many ways—socio-economically, ethnically, religiously,” a closefriend explained. “Tucson, above all, has had to learn to compromise and to becompassionate and responsive to people, mostly because of their differences.That is part of Gabby’s upbringing. She’s not going to take the strict party mes-sage.”
Although her congressional record tends to reflect her DemocraticParty’s stance, she cultivates her independence.
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