Rep. Gabrielle Giffords announced Sunday morning that she will step down from Congress this week to continue her recovery from a gunshot wound inflicted a year ago this month.
Gabrielle Giffords has announced she will be stepping down as US congresswoman. (photo: Tucson Sentinel)
Gabrielle Giffords Resigning From Congress
22 January 12
Congresswoman stepping down to continue recovering from Jan. 8 shooting
.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will resign from Congress, she announced Sunday morning in a message posted to YouTube.
"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week," she said, speaking haltingly.
Giffords served five years in the House of Representatives. She said she would return to public service, hinting at a possible future run for office.
"I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country," she said in the two-minute video, which is composed of short clips of Giffords speaking over her past campaign commercials and videos taken over the past year. (below).
In a television interview broadcast in November, she said she would not return to Congress until she was "better."
"While Gabby was hopeful that she would return to work this year, she has recently determined that it will take more time," her husband, Mark Kelly, said in a note emailed to constituents Sunday.
After Giffords submits a resignation letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner and Gov. Jan Brewer, the governor will set a date for special elections to choose who will finish out Giffords' term, which - like all House terms - runs through the end of the year.
A special primary election will be held within 80 to 90 days, putting it in April.
"It's more of a pause than an end," said Gifford's Southern Arizona Democratic colleague, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.
"In public life, there's always going to be a place for Gabby," he said. "I really think Gabby's doing what's best for her. Her recovery is number one."
Giffords "embodies the very best of what public service should be," President Obama said Sunday. "Over the last year, Gabby and her husband Mark have taught us the true meaning of hope in the face of despair, determination in the face of incredible odds, and now - even after she’s come so far - Gabby shows us what it means to be selfless as well."
Prior to leaving office, Giffords will attend the State of the Union on Tuesday, and meet with some of those who were at the "Congress On Your Corner" event where she and 19 others were shot Jan. 8, 2011. She did not say which day she would resign.
Arizona is my home, always will be. A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together.
I don't remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice.
Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week. I'm getting better. Every day, my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.
Giffords was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011, while holding a "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and-greet with constituents at a Northwest Side Safeway.
Six people were killed and 13, including Giffords, were wounded in the attack.
Those killed were Giffords' aide Gabriel Zimmerman, 30; Christina-Taylor Green, 9; Dorothy Morris, 76; Judge John Roll, 63; Phyllis Schneck, 79; and Dorwin Stoddard, 76. The 13 wounded were Giffords, her District Director Ron Barber, Bill Badger, Kenneth Dorushka, James Fuller, Randy Gardner, Susan Hileman, George Morris, Mary Reed, Pamela Simon, Mavanell Stoddard, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22 at the time of the shooting, is charged with 49 counts in what federal authorities allege was an attempt to assassinate Giffords. Fourteen of those charges could result in the death penalty.
Giffords was shot through the left side of her head at point-blank range. The day of the shooting, she was widely reported as dead by many local and national news outlets.
Doctors at University Medical Center called her survival and recovery "miraculous."
Since shortly after the shooting, Giffords has been undergoing therapy in Houston, where her husband, Mark Kelly, was based while serving as an astronaut.
But even after months of rehabilitation, Giffords walks with a severe limp, and has limited use of her right arm and hand.
While her speech has improved, she still speaks slowly and deliberately, evidenced by her delivery of the Pledge of Allegiance at a memorial vigil on the University of Arizona Mall two weeks ago.
Aides have said she has been able to fully comprehend political briefings, and that her personality remained strong after the shooting.
"Before she leaves office, Giffords will finish her 'Congress On Your Corner' that was interrupted," a press release from her office said.
"In a private gathering in Tucson, Giffords will meet with some of the people who were at that event," spokesman Mark Kimble wrote in the release.
In an interview shortly after the shooting, Giffords' husband Mark Kelly told TucsonSentinel.com and other local reporters that she if she continued in office, she would likely return to the Safeway shooting site and hold another meet-and-greet event.
Before she submits her resignation letter, Giffords will attend President Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday, and visit the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, which was established after the shooting, Kimble said.
Giffords returned to Tucson for the first anniversary of the shooting where she led the Pledge of Allegiance during a candlelight vigil on the UA Mall.
Her visit earlier this month was her fourth time home to Tucson. In November, she and Kelly served a Thanksgiving dinner to airmen at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. She also visited Labor Day and Father's Day weekends.
In that time, she has made few trips outside of Texas. In addition to her trips home, she traveled to Florida twice for the launch of the space shuttle and twice to Washington, D.C. — once to vote on the debt bill and again for Kelly's retirement ceremony. She also flew to North Carolina for a short stint of rehabilitation.
Giffords, 41, served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2001-2003, and won two elections to the state Senate, serving from 2003-2005.
She was elected to the Congress in 2006, and re-elected in 2008 and 2010. She qualified for a congressional pension earlier this month, becoming vested after five years in office. That pension would pay about $14,000 per year once she reaches age 62.
The 8th District congressional offices in Washington, Tucson and Sierra Vista will remain open to help constituents until the new member of Congress takes office later this year, Kimble said.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called Giffords a "bright star" in a statement.
"She will be missed in the House of Representatives, but her legacy in the Congress and her leadership for our nation will certainly continue," the California Democrat said.
Giffords' "message of bipartisanship and civility is one that all in Washington and the nation should honor and emulate," Pelosi said.
House Speaker Boehner echoed Pelosi, saying "I salute Rep. Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed."
Calling Giffords "a model of what can be accomplished with persistence and determination," Gov. Jan Brewer said in a press release that she "will continue to hold Gabby in my thoughts and prayers as she continues on this path toward recovery."
Giffords' resignation will set political wheels turning. Constitutionally, members of the House of Representatives must be elected, not appointed.
Brewer must call special primary and general elections once Giffords resigns, said Pima County Democratic Party Chair Jeff Rogers.
A partisan primary must be held within 80 to 90 days of her resignation, with a general election to fill the seat for the remainder of her term 50 to 60 days after that. Brewer must set the dates for the elections within three days of Giffords' resignation.
The primary will fall in April, while the special general election will be held sometime in June.
Candidates will have only 30 days after the elections are set to gather about 800 nominating signatures to gain a spot on the primary ballot — the same number as for a regular elextion.
That election will take place as a normal general election cycle is underway, with primaries scheduled for August and a general election in November.
As candidates campaign for the CD8 seat, there also will be a race getting underway in the new CD2 that generally overlaps the same territory. GOP-leaning Marana, Oro Valley and Saddlebrooke, which are in CD8, are outside the new district, edging the second contest slightly in the Democratic direction.
The concurrent contests will create wrinkles in the process, Rogers said.
"I hadn't even considered that," he said Sunday. "Different people could win the different elections."
Rogers said the Democratic Party hasn't had discussions about who might run if Giffords were to resign.
"We've been pretty deferential to the congresswoman about that," he said. "It wasn't appropriate to have those sorts of talks."
"We're all of course saddened that she doesn't feel up to serving right now. It's a great loss for Southern Arizona."
"I made a couple of calls just moments ago," he said, declining to name those who might now be pondering a congressional run.
Carolyn Cox, the chairwoman of the Pima County Republican Party, declined to speculate on the upcoming elections.
"I'm sad that she had to resign," she said.
Although Giffords narrowly held off a Tea Party GOP challenger, Jesse Kelly, in 2010, she was widely considered to be a shoo-in if she chose to run again.
Republican state Rep. Frank Antenori, who's laid the groundwork for a run, said last year that he would not seek a congressional seat if Giffords were in the race. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
Also maneuvering for a run on the GOP side is University of Arizona sports announcer Dave Sitton.
With Giffords not running, there will be jockeying on the Democratic side, as well. State Reps. Steve Farley and Matt Heinz, along with state Sen. Paula Aboud, have been rumored to be interested in seeking a vacant seat.
"I honestly believed she would be able to continue," Farley said Sunday afternoon.
Farley said he's "pretty excited about what we can do in the Legislature," predicting that the Democrats will be able to pick up seats and break the GOP stranglehold on the state Senate.
"I'd be willing to serve" in Congress, the assistant House Democratic leader said.
Other names floated have included Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, and her district director, Ron Barber, who was also shot on Jan. 8. Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, has denied rumors that he is interested in seeking his wife's seat.
Giffords' endorsement of a candidate will have a great impact on the race, Farley said, both in terms of voter enthusiasm and funding; the congresswoman is sitting on a sizeable campaign warchest.
Farley issued a statement Sunday afternoon on behalf of his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature, thanking Giffords "for her service and her willingness to put her life on the line to make Arizona a better place for all families through her work on jobs, veterans and the economy."
"She humbly gave Arizona a voice in Washington and selflessly dedicated her life to her constituents. She has always been a true friend and always will be. We can't thank her enough and look forward to her swift recovery and working with her in the future," he wrote.
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