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GIFFORDS: 'A BEAUTIFUL SOUL'

As people kept coming together at vigils for the victims of Saturday's senseless shootings, there were words that we kept hearing to describe Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Compassionate. Kind. Down-to-earth. Smart. Caring. Hard-working. Fighter. Beloved.

They all fit the bill.

The personal touch that Giffords brings to politics has made her a rising star in Arizona's political landscape. While she had her share of political opponents, it's a testament to Giffords' political skills and personal drive that in a year when Democrats were driven from office across the country, she held on for a third term representing a Southern Arizona district where Republicans outnumber Democrats.

Giffords was doing what she does best—talking to people one-on-one—when gunman Jared Lee Loughner allegedly opened fire, killing six people and wounding another 13 before several bystanders tackled him while he attempted to reload his gun.

Giffords' family and close friends were on hand Saturday at University Medical Center, scared out of their wits for the Democratic congresswoman.

"She's the real thing," said Elaine Richardson, who served alongside Giffords in the Arizona Legislature. "She's a class act."

Democratic state Rep. Matt Heinz, who has worked with Giffords on numerous issues, says the congresswoman "has a beautiful soul and a passion for service. She has a burning desire to help people to be the most that they can be. There's a wonderful and infectious energy that she has about her."

It's a testament to Giffords' personal style that even Tim Bee, the Republican who tried to knock her out of office in 2008, was visibly distraught at University Medical Center on Saturday.

"This was a horrible, senseless act," said Bee, who had known Giffords since they attended elementary school together. "Our prayers are with Gabby and her family and all the victims and their families."

Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, who has worked with Giffords on some legislation and opposed her on other bills, raced to Tucson on Saturday.

"When I heard, I had to come," Flake said. "She's a good friend and a great person."

Here's something else about Gabby Giffords: She doesn't give up. And that's why we're hopeful that she's going to recover from this—and maybe even come back stronger than ever.


TRIGGERING A NATIONAL DEBATE

Saturday's massacre reverberated around the globe, with media from across the nation descending upon Tucson to report on the details.

It upset the GOP's agenda in Washington, D.C., forcing congressional Republicans to back off—for now—on plans to push for the repeal of the health-care reform plan passed by Democrats last year.

It launched a debate over the limits and decency of political speech after Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik let loose at a press conference, condemning "rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates," and talk-show hosts and cable-news figures who "try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week." (Read more about Dupnik's remarks in Media Watch on Page 12.)

Dupnik says that kind of talk "has impact on people, especially (people) who are unbalanced personalities to begin with."

It forced Gov. Jan Brewer to rework her State of the State address. Rather than talking about her agenda for the year ahead (which will likely include a major push to take away state-subsidized health-care insurance from low-income Arizonans), Brewer focused on the victims of Saturday's shootings.

"I had intended to deliver a State of the State address to you today—remarks that outline an exciting and solid plan for job-creation, education and tax reform," Brewer said in her speech. "And I will deliver that plan to you. But not now. Not today."

The challenges that lie ahead for state lawmakers were not on the mind of the Southern Arizona legislators who The Skinny caught up with over the weekend.

Instead, they were thinking about the victims of Saturday's shootings.

Newly elected state Rep. Terri Proud remembered her first meeting with Giffords.

"I went out to extend my hand to shake hers, and she looked at me and said, 'Honey, I don't do handshakes; I do hugs,'" said Proud, a Republican who represents Legislative District 26, which includes the shopping center where the massacre happened.

During her first campaign, Proud put out a YouTube video, "Tribute to Women and the Second Amendment," which showed photos of different women packing heat. While Proud and Giffords have different views on a lot of political issues, Proud says they have parallel views when it comes to supporting the right to bear arms.

"Gabby was a big supporter of Second Amendment rights, as am I," she said. "But what we campaigned on is the right to self-defense, and somehow, we've lost the original intent of what that constitutional right was."

That doesn't mean Arizona should have stricter gun laws, she said. Instead, the state should encourage people to learn to protect themselves.

Proud said that if a citizen in the crowd had been carrying a sidearm, the number of wounded and dead could have been minimized. And if more law-abiding civilians carried guns, killers like Jared Lee Loughner might think twice before opening fire in a crowd.

"If we lived in a society where I didn't know if that person next to me was carrying a gun ... do you honestly think he would have done what he did?" she asked.

Rep. Vic Williams, a Republican from the same district in northern Tucson, said the shootings were "absolutely shocking."

"It's horrific," he said on Saturday afternoon. "And I find it even more troubling that it happened in my legislative district."

He said one of the things he respected most about Giffords was her ability to communicate with regular people and stay in touch with her constituency.

"In many ways, I've tried to emulate what she has done by being involved in my community," he said. "I think most representatives serving in government can take a page from her book—how she reaches out to the community and how she's always been part of her district."

But the shootings at that seemingly innocuous Safeway on Saturday morning changed everything. Public officials and people attending political events will have the murders in the back of their minds for a long time, Williams said.

"We want to stay in close contact with our constituents and the people we serve," he said. "But to see something like this go on—it's scary; it's terrifying, to say the least. ... Obviously, that's something that will weigh heavy on all of us who serve and all of us who want to be involved in very contentious problems in our country."

Williams said he felt "especially sickened" when he heard about Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was shot and killed while waiting to meet the congresswoman.

"I can't but help think of my 9-year-old son, Trevor, who has been to many events with me, and that this happened within miles of our home," he said.

State Sen. Al Melvin—also a Republican representing LD 26—had no comment to the Tucson Weekly about the murders of six people and the shooting of 14 more. When contacted Saturday evening, he said: "I don't have anything to say to you or anyone else at your newspaper."

Then he hung up.

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