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Gabby Giffords’ Staff Carries on Despite Tragedy

Inspiration comes from their wounded boss.

by
Elise Cooper

Bio

August 27, 2011 - 2:06 pm

Americans today know all too well about “Generation Me,” described as self-absorbed, pampered, lacking empathy, and believing in self-entitlement.  One group of people that doesn’t qualify as part of  ”Generation Me” is the staff of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. PJMedia interviewed those who have worked on the staff since that tragic day of January 8, 2011, when Giffords was shot and seriously wounded.

Giffords’ team was faced with their own trauma, having seen some of their colleagues shot and killed. Not knowing what the future held, they could have left to pursue other positions; yet, as their leader lay injured, the team picked up the ball and ran with it to make sure the constituents in her district were well served. Captain Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband, commented:

[T]here has never been an incident like what happened on January 8th.  Gabe Zimmerman (one of her staff) was the first congressional employee in our nation’s history to be killed in the performance of his duties.  There is no playbook for what they are doing.  Now Gabby’s staff is working (even those who were wounded) to help people while Gabby focuses on her rehabilitation.

Congresswoman Giffords’ priority issues are border security, fiscal responsibility, advancement of solar energy, and assisting war veterans. C.J. Karamargin, the former communications director for Giffords who has left to become the vice-chancellor for public information and government relations at Pima Community College, believes that the congresswoman instilled in her staff that they were there “for a reason, to serve our constituents.” He added:

We take a great source of pride in being able to fulfill her vision. Since the shooting we have closed 1024 cases and we see ourselves as advocates for the people of southeastern Arizona. Working for the congresswoman has been the most gratifying, satisfying, and challenging job. We have been like a family and have become even closer after Jan 8th.

Gary Thrasher, a constituent who has been to Giffords’ offices a number of times, echoed the sentiment: it became “infectious to see your boss running around to get issues resolved. Her staff learned from her that they need to bend over backwards to help you out.”

Regarding border security, ranchers Wendy and Warren Glenn are very pleased with the staff since they have done

an amazing job coordinating, contacting people, and informing us on what is transpiring in Congress.  They continue to hold conference calls with border security officials and the ranchers, and the staff has brought many congressional people here to educate them about what the local people are facing everyday in the borderlands.

Captain Kelly agrees that the “staff is doing an excellent job of making sure Gabby’s views are known in Washington.”

This is obvious since earlier this month a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate to crack down on drug smugglers using ultralight aircraft. This bill was originally sponsored by Dean Heller (R-NV) and Giffords; it passed the House overwhelmingly last year.  Another Giffords bill was re-introduced by Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) after he visited the Arizona border to provide cell phone service to the Arizona border community. Congressman Poe told PJMedia:

The day before Gabby was shot we were talking about the border, one of many discussions we have had.  We both wanted to go to each other’s border.  I was very impressed that the staff wanted to host me after she was shot. It was incredible how organized and dedicated they were to Gabby and her issues. There was never the mentality that we are going to wait until Gabby gets back.  A phrase not acceptable in her office is “sorry there is nothing we can do.” Whether it is a constituent or an issue like border security, they get it done and make it happen.  It kind of shocks you because this is the government we are talking about.

Knowing that the government was dealing with critical economic issues, Congresswoman Giffords and her staff saw as their responsibility the need to inform and engage their constituents about this issue. According to David Walker, a former U.S. comptroller general who now heads the Comeback America Initiative, the congresswoman, on the Wednesday before she was shot, set up a town hall meeting to prepare the public for the tough choices needed to be made regarding government spending. The staff followed through earlier this summer and arranged for David Walker and Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, to run a deficit-reduction town hall. Walker described the event as well organized with several hundred people present. The staff made sure Giffords’ wishes were adhered to: the first hour was informative with speakers and a Q and A, while the second part had the public engaged with a fact-based budget exercise in which the constituents tried to solve the budget problem by having to make the tough choices involved in reducing the deficit.

The staff has also been very proactive in helping veterans. Matt Randle, the co-founder of Veterans Education and Transition Services program at the University of Arizona, noted that there are regular sessions where veterans meet with the staff and talk about issues important to them.  According to Randle, the number of veteran client constituents helped since the shooting has tripled, which shows that the staff “has not just carried the ball but has sprinted toward the goal line and done an amazing job.”

Anna Magoffin told the story of how her parents lost their home in this summer’s fires and “Gabbys’ staff was one of the first sources to offer aide in replacing official U.S. documents, including dad’s military records, which meant a lot to me and my parents.” In addition, over Father’s Day weekend the staff sponsored a “packages for the troops” day.

Everyone interviewed described the staff as concerned and caring.  Captain Kelly noted that the “staff and Gabby all have become even closer because of the grief they share, the hardships they are enduring, and the challenges that still lay ahead.” This is exemplified by Ron Barber, Giffords’ district director, who set up a volunteer organization to increase the level of civility, respect, and understanding in the district. Two members on the board of this organization are John Wesley Miller (R), former chairman of the Arizona Solar Energy Commission, and Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup (R). Miller agrees with Walkup that

Giffords’ staff mirrors her personality: dedicated, diligent, responsive, and professional.  I have met with Barber several times to examine the whole issue of how we should deal with each other.  The staff has a real appreciation for the cause.

Why is the staff so dedicated and loyal to both the congresswoman and the constituents?  Kelly Kimbro, a rancher, has nicknamed them the “’Dream Team’ because they are keeping Gabby’s work and dreams alive by still having faith. Gabby has instilled in them a goal to be helpful to the community, and they have done a great job.”

Captain Kelly said that the one tenet which every staff “member keeps in mind is ‘what would Gabby want us to do?’  They have been inspired by her hard work in rehabilitation so she can return to Congress.  Her team is able to do their work because they know what Gabby would want and even though she is not back at work yet, she communicates her wishes to her staff.”  Her staff do not see it as just a job but are passionate to have the best constituent services possible, something instilled in them by Congresswoman Giffords.

The author is a freelance writer focusing on national security issues.
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