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Barber vs. Kelly 

Who will be the heavyweight in CD 8?

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Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee who is now working to get Kelly elected, complained in 2010—when he was working for Jonathan Paton, Kelly's primary opponent—that Kelly's campaign "has had about as much accuracy and credibility on things as Countdown With Keith Olbermann."

Barber predicts that voters will see through Kelly's disregard for the truth.

"I really do believe that Southern Arizona voters are much more intelligent than that," Barber says. "They're not going to buy the sound bites; they're not going to buy the misinformation. They're not going to buy someone who is going to play fast and loose with the facts. I believe they want someone who is running for office who is going to tell them the truth and can be straight with them, and that's what I intend to do."

Barber knows a thing or two about the voters in Congressional District 8.

When Giffords was first elected to Congress in 2006, Barber headed up her transition team as she took over the office from Jim Kolbe, a Republican who was retiring after 22 years in office. After Giffords was sworn in, Barber became her district director and dedicated himself to keeping an eye on constituent needs in Southern Arizona.

Barber says he was determined to see the office deliver the best constituent service it could on behalf of Giffords.

"That was her priority," says Barber, who recruited many staffers who had backgrounds in social work.

The job of district director continued Barber's career in public service. Barber had spent more than three decades working for the state of Arizona, most of it running the Southern Arizona branch of the Division of Developmental Disabilities. Although he served as acting head of the entire division in the late 1980s, he was happy to relinquish control and return to Southern Arizona.

"I couldn't wait to get back to the regional directorship, where I could talk to a family that had a child with disabilities, or meet with a group of people with disabilities, or I could influence or help set up a new program," he says. "For me, that's where it's at."

Barber helped close two institutions and move people with mental disabilities into the community. He says his experience working for the state "taught me a lot about problem-solving and bringing people together to find solutions to let people with disabilities live productive lives in the community."

He met Giffords while she was still a state lawmaker. He was so impressed with her smarts that when she announced she was running for Congress, he quit his job with the state to help her campaign.

His work as CD 8's district director has helped Barber land the endorsement of some high-profile Republicans. Bob Walkup, the former Tucson mayor, is co-chairing the campaign (along with current Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, a Democrat).

"He understands the issues; he understands Washington; he understands the common good; and he's a real good guy," Walkup says. "He'll represent all of the people in the district, and I like that."

Other Republicans supporting Barber include Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik, former Sierra Vista Mayor Bob Strain, Cochise County rancher and veterinarian Gary Thrasher, and former Sahuarita Mayor Lynne Skelton.

Skelton says that Barber understands the district and "brings experience to the picture. He understands what's going to work and how to bring jobs to our area. And more than anything else, he's not a politician. ... Ron is a true public servant. He's about solving problems and building consensus, and he wants to get stuff done."

As district director, Barber was often by Giffords' side as she traveled throughout Southern Arizona. He was standing near her, talking with federal Judge John Roll, when the shooting broke out on Jan. 8, 2011.

Barber was shot twice. One bullet passed through a cheek and exited the back of his neck; the second hit him in the upper left thigh. His doctors said he was lucky not to lose his leg, although he suffered nerve damage and lost feeling—except for moments of severe pain—below the knee.

It would be six months before Barber could return to work, but he stayed busy during his recovery. Besides a vigorous rehab schedule, Barber formed the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting programs for the mentally ill and anti-bullying efforts in schools. To raise money for the fund, Barber organized a star-studded rock 'n' roll benefit concert at the Tucson Convention Center just two months after the shooting that included Jackson Browne, Alice Cooper, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Nils Lofgren, Ozomatli and Calexico.

Despite all of his years in government, Barber says he never aspired to public office. But when Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, asked him to run in the special election to complete Giffords' term, he agreed to step up after discussing it with his wife, Nancy, and their children, as well as his doctors.

A few weeks later, after he had tested the campaign trail, he decided he would also seek the new Congressional District 2 seat later this year.

"I just felt more and more that I really wanted to do more than six months, and really tackle these problems," Barber says.

More by Jim Nintzel

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