Giffords is a native of Tucson, Arizona, and a graduate of Scripps College and Cornell University. Prior to her election to Congress, Giffords served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001 until 2003 and the Arizona State Senate from 2003 until 2005, when she resigned to run for the seat held by then-Congressman Jim Kolbe. She also worked as an associate for regional economic development in New York City and as CEO of El Campo Tire Warehouses, a local automotive chain owned by her grandfather. She is married to astronaut and space shuttle Commander Mark E. Kelly.
Giffords is currently serving her third term in the United States House of Representatives, having been re-elected in the 2010 midterm elections. Considered a "Blue Dog" Democrat, her stances on health care reform and illegal immigration were sources of attention for those opposed to her candidacy and have made her a recipient of criticism from various conservative groups. She has described herself as a "former Republican."
On January 8, 2011, Giffords was a victim of a shooting near Tucson, which was reported to be an assassination attempt on her, at a Safeway supermarket where she was meeting publicly with constituents. Giffords was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head; six people were killed, and another thirteen people were injured in the shooting. She has since been relocated to a rehabilitation facility in Houston.
Giffords was born June 8, 1970 in Tucson, Arizona, to Gloria Kay (née Fraser) and Spencer J. Giffords. She was raised in a mixed religious environment by her Jewish father and Christian Science-practicing mother. She has identified herself solely with Judaism since 2001, belonging to Congregation Chaverim, a Reform synagogue, in Tucson. She is Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman.
Giffords graduated from Tucson's University High School. She received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American History from Scripps College in California in 1993, and a Masters of Regional Planning from Cornell University in 1996. She focused her studies on Mexico – United States relations while at Cornell. She was a Fulbright Scholar in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1996 and a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Giffords married U.S. Navy Captain and astronaut Mark E. Kelly on November 10, 2007. He was the Space Shuttle's pilot on STS-108 and STS-121 and commander of STS-124.
Giffords is a former member of the Arizona regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. After Hurricane Katrina struck in the late summer of 2005, Giffords spent time as a volunteer in Houston, Texas, in relief efforts for Hurricane victims. She wrote about her experience in the Tucson Citizen.
Giffords is an avid reader and was featured on NPR's Weekend Edition on July 9, 2006, talking about her love of books. She was periodically interviewed in 2007 together with Illinois Republican Peter Roskam on NPR's All Things Considered. The series focused on their experiences as freshman members of the 110th Congress.
Her father is a first cousin of director Bruce Paltrow, whose daughter is actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Business careerGiffords worked as an associate for regional economic development at Price Waterhouse in New York City. In 1996, she became president and CEO of El Campo Tire Warehouses, a local automotive chain founded by her grandfather. The business was sold to Goodyear Tire in 2000. At the time of the sale she commented on the difficulties local businesses face when competing against large national firms.
Arizona state representative and senatorGiffords was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives and served from 2001 to 2003. She was elected to the Arizona Senate in the fall of 2002, and at the time was the youngest woman elected to that body. She took office in January 2003 and was re-elected in 2004. She resigned from the Arizona Senate on December 1, 2005, in preparation for her congressional campaign.
In early 2005, Giffords observed that "the 2004 election took its toll on our bipartisan coalition" and that as a result "a number of significant problems will receive far less attention than they deserve." She highlighted among these, the lack of high-paying jobs or necessary infrastructure, rapid growth, and inward migration that threatened the environment and "strain[ed] [...] education, health care, and transportation" and unresolved problems such as Students First, Arnold v. Sarn, repayments due under Ladewig v. Arizona, the No Child Left Behind mandate, low educational achievement, health care costs, and the demands of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. She noted that Arizona was not alone in facing such challenges.
Expanding health care access was an issue of interest for Giffords when she served in the legislature. She also pushed for bills related to mental health and was named by the Mental Health Association of Arizona as the 2004 Legislator of the Year. Giffords also earned the Sierra Club's Most Valuable Player award.
In the legislature, Giffords worked on the bipartisan Children's Caucus, which sought to improve education and health care for Arizona's children. Critics of this plan argued that it amounted to taxpayer funded daycare. She worked with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano to promote all-day kindergarten. Giffords supported raising more money for schools "through sponsorship of supplemental state aid through bonds and tax credits that could be used for school supplies." She was awarded Arizona Family Literacy's Outstanding Legislator for 2003.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
Following the November 2006 election, Giffords was sworn in as a congresswoman on January 3, 2007. She was the third woman in Arizona's history to be elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. In her inaugural speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Giffords advocated a comprehensive immigration reform package, including modern technology to secure the border, more border patrol agents, tough employer sanctions for businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and a guest-worker program. In her first month in office, Giffords voted in favor of increased federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, raising the minimum wage, endorsing the 9/11 Commission recommendations, new rules for the House of Representatives targeting ethical issues, and the repeal of $14 billion of subsidies to big oil companies, in favor of renewable energy subsidies and the founding of the Strategic Renewable Energy Reserve.
During the 2007 session of Congress, Giffords introduced a bill (H.R. 1441) that forbids the sale of F-14 aircraft parts on the open market. Giffords advocated for a national day of recognition for cowboys as one of her first actions. She voted for the contentious May 2007 Iraq Emergency Supplemental Spending bill, saying, "I cannot, in good conscience, allow the military to run out of money while American servicemen and women are being attacked every day".
Giffords is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition. She is a co-founder of the Congressional Motorcycle Safety Caucus. She is the only member of the U.S. Congress whose spouse is an active duty member of the U.S. military. She is also known as a strong proponent of solar energy as well as for her work to secure the U.S.–Mexico border.
2006Giffords launched her first candidacy for the U.S. Congress on January 24, 2006. The campaign received national attention early on as a likely pick-up for the Democratic Party. Prominent Democrats endorsed Giffords including Tom Daschle, Robert Reich, Janet Napolitano, and Bill Clinton. EMILY's List endorsed Giffords early in the campaign cycle. The Sierra Club and the Arizona Education Association also endorsed her. On September 12, 2006, Giffords won her party's nomination in the primary election.
Her Republican opponent in the general election was Randy Graf, a conservative former state senator known for his enforcement-only position on immigration and illegal aliens. Graf had run against Jim Kolbe in the 2004 GOP primary and had announced his candidacy in 2006 before Kolbe announced his retirement. The Republican establishment was somewhat cool toward Graf, believing he might be too conservative for the district, and the national GOP took the unusual step of endorsing one of the more moderate candidates in the primary. Graf won anyway, helped by a split in the Republican moderate vote between two candidates.
Not long after the primary, Congressional Quarterly changed its rating of the race to "Leans Democrat." By late September, the national GOP had pulled most of its funding, effectively conceding the seat to Giffords. Giffords won the race on November 7, 2006, with 54 percent of the vote. Graf received 42 percent. The rest of the vote went to minor candidates. Giffords' victory was portrayed as evidence that Americans are accepting towards comprehensive immigration reform.
2008In 2008, Giffords was elected to a second term. Republican Tim Bee, a childhood classmate and former colleague in the Arizona State Senate, ran against her. Bee was then the Arizona State Senate President and was considered a strong challenger in this race. Despite the presence of McCain atop the ticket as the Republican presidential candidate, Giffords was reelected with 56.20 percent of the vote to Bee's 41.45 percent.
2010 Kelly, an Iraq War veteran (and not related to her husband), was listed as a top ten Tea Party candidate to watch by Politico, and described by azcentral.com as highly conservative even compared to Sarah Palin. Giffords had been targeted for defeat by Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC.
Giffords participated in the reading of the United States Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives on January 6, 2011; she read the First Amendment.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Science, Space and Technology
Attempted assassinationOn January 8, 2011, Giffords was shot in the head outside a Safeway grocery store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, a suburban area northwest of Tucson, during her first "Congress on Your Corner" gathering of the year. Twenty people were shot, of whom six died, when a man ran up to the crowd and began firing. The suspect, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, was detained by bystanders until he was taken into police custody. Federal officials charged Loughner on the next day with killing federal government employees, attempting to assassinate a member of Congress, and attempting to kill federal employees.
Giffords's intern, Daniel Hernandez Jr., provided first aid assistance to her immediately after she was wounded and is credited with saving her life. She was promptly evacuated to the University Medical Center of Tucson in critical condition, though she was still conscious and "following commands" at the time. Doctors performed emergency surgery to extract skull fragments and a small amount of necrotic tissue from her brain. The bullet had passed through Giffords's head without crossing the midline of the brain, where the most critical injuries typically result. Part of her skull was removed to avoid further damage to the brain from pressure caused by swelling. Civilian doctors who first treated Giffords said the bullet had entered the back of her head and exited through the front of her skull, but experienced military physicians later concluded that it had traveled in the opposite direction. Upon receiving a call from a staffer about Giffords's injury, husband Mark E. Kelly and his daughters flew in a friend's aircraft directly from Houston to Tucson.
RecoveryGiffords initially was placed in a medically-induced coma to allow her brain to rest. She was able to respond to simple commands when periodically awoken, but was unable to speak as she was on a ventilator. Nancy Pelosi said Giffords's husband Mark Kelly acknowledged that there is a "rough road ahead" for his wife's recovery, but was encouraged by her responsiveness, which included the ability to signal with her hand and move both arms. U.S. Army neurologist Geoffrey Ling of the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland, was sent to Tucson to consult on Giffords's condition. Ling stated, "Her prognosis for maintaining the function that she has is very good. It's over 50 percent." On January 11, neurosurgeon G. Michael Lemole Jr. said that Giffords's sedation had been reduced and that she could breathe on her own. On January 12, President Barack Obama visited Giffords at the medical center and publicly stated in an evening memorial ceremony that she had "opened her eyes for the first time" that day.
As Giffords's status improved, she began simple physical therapy, including sitting up with the assistance of hospital staff and moving her legs upon command. On January 15, surgeons performed a tracheotomy, replacing the ventilator tube with a smaller one inserted through Giffords's throat to assist independent breathing. Doctors plan to evaluate her ability to speak after the breathing tube is removed. Ophthalmologist Lynn Polonski surgically repaired Giffords's eye socket, with additional reconstructive surgery to follow. Giffords's condition was upgraded to "serious" on January 17, and to "good" on January 25. She was transferred on January 21 to the Memorial Hermann Medical Center in Houston, Texas, where she subsequently moved to the center's Institute for Rehabilitation and Research to undergo a program of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Upon her arrival in Houston, her doctors were optimistic, saying she has "great rehabilitation potential". On February 9, spokesperson C. J. Karamargin stated that Giffords has been regaining her ability to speak. Giffords's husband said he expects her to travel to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness the launch of his final Space Shuttle mission scheduled for April 2011.
Medical experts expect Giffords's recovery to take from several months to more than one year. Some questions were raised by the media as to whether Giffords could be removed from office under a state law that allows a public office to be declared vacant if the officeholder is absent for three months, but a spokesperson for the Arizona secretary of state said the statute "doesn't apply to federal offices" and is, therefore, not relevant.
AbortionGiffords is pro-choice, with a 100% rating from NARAL.
EconomyGiffords voted against President Bush's Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Giffords was one of 60 lawmakers who voted against the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 before switching to a yes vote, and she voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
EducationGiffords argues that Americans are competing on a global level and that this competition starts in the classroom. She is a critic of the No Child Left Behind law, viewing it as an unfunded federal mandate. She supports public schools and their improved efficiency.
EnergyGiffords strongly supports renewable energy, in particular solar energy, as a top public policy priority.
In September 2007, she published a report titled: The Community Solar Energy Initiative, Solar Energy in Southern Arizona, observing that Arizona has enough sunshine to power the entire United States. It reviews current energy usage and discusses how to increase the production of solar electricity. On August 1, 2008, she wrote to congressional leaders regarding tax credits that were set to expire, saying that failure to extend the scheme would be extremely harmful to the renewable energy industry "just as it is beginning to take off."
Gun rightsGiffords supports gun rights. She opposed the Washington D.C. gun ban, signing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support its overturn.
Despite her stated support, gun rights groups typically give her low grades on the topic. She has a D+ rating from the NRA and a D from the GOA.
Immigration and border security
Arizona's 8th Congressional District is one of 10 in the country bordering Mexico. Giffords has stated that the Arizona SB 1070 legislation is a "clear calling that the federal government needs to do a better job" and saying that she hopes the legislation acts as a wake up call to the federal government. However, she stopped short of supporting the law itself, saying that it "does nothing to secure our border" and that it "stands in direct contradiction to our past and, as a result, threatens our future." She also claimed that SB1070 kept Arizona from attracting students and businesses.
On August 31, 2010, Giffords praised the arrival of National Guard troops on the border: "Arizonans have waited a long time for the deployment of the National Guard in our state. Their arrival represents a renewed national commitment to protecting our border communities from drug cartels and smugglers."
Giffords worked to secure passage of the August 2010 bill to fund more Border Patrol agents and surveillance technology for Arizona's border with Mexico. The legislation passed the House of Representatives only to be sent back by the U.S. Senate with reduced funding. Ultimately a $600 million bill was passed and signed in to law. The bill was over $100 million less than Giffords fought for, but she said, "This funding signals a stronger federal commitment to protect those Americans who live and work near the border."
In 2008, Giffords introduced legislation that would have increased the cap on the H-1B visa from 65,000 per year to 130,000 per year. If that were not sufficient, according to her legislation, the cap would have been increased to 180,000 per year. The bill would have allowed, at most, 50% of employees at any given company with at least 50 employees to be H-1B guest workers. Giffords said the bill would help high-tech companies in southern Arizona, some of which rely on H1-B employees. Giffords's bill was never voted on by the House of Representatives.
|Arizona's 8th Congressional District House Election, 2006|
|Libertarian||David F. Nolan||4,849||1.91%|
|Arizona's 8th Congressional District House Election, 2008|
|Arizona's 8th Congressional District House Election, 2010|