Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: June 8, 1970, Tucson .
Education: Scripps Col., B.A. 1993, Cornell U., M.S. 1996.
Family: Married (Mark Kelly); 2 children.
Elected office: AZ House of Reps., 2000-02; AZ Senate, 2002-05.
Professional Career: Price Waterhouse Coopers, 1996-97; CEO and pres., El Campo Tire, 1997-2000.
The congresswoman from the 8th District is Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat elected in 2006. Giffords grew up in Tucson, a third-generation southern Arizonan. She attended Scripps College in California, won a William Fulbright scholarship to study in Mexico, and graduated from Cornell University in 1996 with a master’s degree in regional planning. After working briefly in New York, Giffords returned home to Tucson to take over for her father at the family tire business. Giffords was elected to the state House in 2000, and two years later, at age 32, became the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate. While in the Legislature, she was a managing partner for a commercial property management business.
|Gabrielle Giffords (D)||179,629||(55%)||($2,775,313)|
|Tim Bee (R)||140,553||(43%)||($1,932,103)|
|Paul Davis (Lib)||8,081||(2%)|
|Gabrielle Giffords (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (54%)
When 11-term Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe announced his retirement in November 2005, Giffords was a serious contender for the swing district. Kolbe, the House’s only openly gay Republican, had been a leader on free trade, Social Security restructuring, and immigration. Except for a close race in 1998, the moderate Kolbe had little trouble winning re-election, but he faced tougher competition in the 2004 Republican primary. Then-state Rep. Randy Graf criticized Kolbe for his support of an immigrant guest-worker program and held the incumbent to 57%.
Giffords resigned her seat in the state Senate to campaign. In the Democratic primary, she faced local television news anchor Patty Weiss. Giffords was supported by labor unions, the women’s fundraising group EMILY’s List, and the Sierra Club. She had a nearly 3-to-1 fundraising advantage. She won the six-candidate September primary 54%-31%. The Republican primary was a battle between Graf, supported by the Minuteman Project border patrol group, moderate state Rep. Steve Huffman, and former state Republican Chairman Mike Hellon. Huffman and Hellon split the moderate vote. Graf beat Huffman, 42%-38%, with 13% for Hellon. After the primary, national Republicans ran ads against Giffords but by October gave up the contest and canceled the airtime it had reserved. Kolbe pointedly refused to endorse Graf. Giffords portrayed herself as a pro-business moderate who could work across party lines and publicized her experience running the family tire store. Giffords won 54%-42%, even carrying Cochise County, where the Minuteman Project was active.
Giffords has shown a flair for attracting attention. Her campaign featured photos of her with her motorcycle and with her fiancé, Discovery astronaut Mark Kelly (they were married in November 2007). Her ambition has also drawn notice. National Public Radio shadowed her as a freshman throughout 2007, reporting on her early days in Congress. She made 340 appearances in the district in her first term and sent out more franked mail than any other House member in 2007. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the first or second female president of the United States,” said former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a Giffords mentor, in 2007. The Democratic leadership, mindful of the two large military bases in the district, gave her a seat on the Armed Services Committee. She was the first freshman to travel to the Iraq war zone in February 2007 and vocally opposed the Bush administration’s troop surge to try to regain control of the country. “A surge can temporarily drive out insurgents or drive them underground. It’s not a long-term solution,” she said. But in May 2007, Giffords voted for the war supplemental spending bill with no timetable for withdrawal, as some Democrats were demanding. After a trip to Iraq in November 2007, she conceded that the surge had resulted in some progress. She spent four days in Afghanistan and Pakistan in April 2008, then called for a phased withdrawal from Iraq and greater attention to Afghanistan.
Giffords favored an immigration bill with a guest-worker program and creating a path to legalization as well as enforcement provisions. The Tucson sector of the border is the only sector without a permanent interior checkpoint. Residents in towns along Interstate19 south of Tucson feared that one would cause illegal immigrants to cross their property, and Kolbe had used his seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee to prevent the Border Patrol from building one. In 2007, the Border Patrol opened a checkpoint north of Tubac. Giffords convened a legislative working group on the subject, which voted against a permanent checkpoint. The Border Patrol went ahead anyway, prompting Giffords to host several raucous community meetings in the area. She got the agency to reduce the size of the checkpoint south of Green Valley, and the agency offered to build only an interim checkpoint and to study making it permanent. Giffords called for a doubling of the number of H-1B visas for high-tech workers, and extension of the E-Verify system, which allows employers to check the immigration status of new hires. With 7th District Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, she sought $5 billion in the stimulus package to renovate ports of entry on the border.
She has backed funding for solar energy, and called for Arizona to be the Silicon Valley of solar. Giffords said that she opposed earmarking, the practice among lawmakers of inserting pet spending items into appropriations bills, but that she would actively seek and disclose earmarks as long as they are allowed under House rules. She asked for $326 million in earmarks in 2007, mostly for projects in Fort Huachuca and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and for $120 million in 2008, including $4 million for advanced research on Silver Fox and Manta unmanned aerial systems.
Both major political parties made the 8th District a priority in 2008. The Service Employees International Union began running ads for Giffords as early as July 2007, and she raised $1.2 million by October 2007. Her Republican opponent was state Senate President Tim Bee, a popular moderate. He and Giffords were schoolmates in northeast Tucson from kindergarten through high school, and were both first elected to the Legislature in 2000. Bee criticized Giffords for voting to sideline the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in April 2008, and criticized her for seeking earmarks and opposing offshore oil drilling. In July 2008, Kolbe withdrew his support of Bee after he cast the deciding vote to put on the ballot a state prohibition on same-sex marriage. In September, Giffords voted against the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets, but in October, she voted in favor of an amended bill. Bee opposed both and criticized her for switching. She said she did so because the October bill included an extension of the solar-energy tax credit. She won 55%-43%, narrowly carrying Cochise County and winning solidly in Pima County.