Born in Arizona in 1970, Gabrielle Giffords worked as an urban planner before winning election to the Arizona State House of Representatives in 2000. She was elected to U.S. Congress in 2005—only the third Arizona woman to do so. Giffords was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2011. She recovered in time to see her husband command the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavor, and to vote on the debt-ceiling bill, before resigning from Congress in 2012. Giffords went on to co-found the advocacy group Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Early Life and Career
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Dee "Gabby" Giffords was born on June 8, 1970, in Tucson, Arizona. Her father, Spencer, worked as a businessman who ran the family's tire company, and her mother Gloria Kay devoted her time to the arts as a painter and art restorer. Giffords had some interesting adventures growing up. She and her older sister Melissa spent some of their summers going across the border to go to camp in Mexico. Gabrielle also developed a passion for horses, and she worked in a stable to earn the money to cover riding lessons. According to her 2011 memoir, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, she later told voters that "I learned a lot cleaning out those stalls. It was good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for when I entered politics."
After graduating from Tucson's University High School, Giffords enrolled at Scripps College, a small, female only school in California. There she earned her bachelor degree in Latin American history and sociology. Her hard work was rewarded with a coveted William Fulbright Scholarship, which she used to study in Chihuahua, Mexico, for a year.
Giffords then pursued a master's degree in regional planning at Cornell University. After completing her studies, she landed a job with Price Waterhouse in New York in 1996. Giffords gave up her corporate career to return to Tucson to help with the family business. She became the president and chief executive officer of El Campo Tire, and she stayed with the company until 2000 when it was sold to Goodyear Tire.
After her return to Tucson, Giffords became interested in helping people in her community. She decided the best way to improve things was to enter politics. Giffords had first registered as a Republican as a teenager, but she later switched over to the Democratic party. Giffords was elected to a seat in the Arizona State House on her first try for office in 2000. She then ran for a seat Arizona Senate in 2002. Emerging victorious, Giffords became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate. She was re-elected in 2004.
Seeking a new opportunity to help the people of Arizona, Giffords resigned from office in December 2005 to seek the congressional seat being vacated by Representative Jim Kolbe of the 8th Congressional District. As the first to announce her candidacy for Kolbe's seat, Giffords established herself as his natural replacement, and began an aggressive campaign for the seat. Come election time, the former state senator defeated Republican Randy Graf by earning roughly 54 percent of the vote.
Giffords earned re-election in 2008, defeating Republican State Senate President Timothy Bee, a childhood schoolmate, with nearly 55 percent of the vote. She also sat on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. Giffords also participated in Science and Technology committee, and chaired its Space and Aeronautics subcommittee in her next term.
As the head of a district that shares a 100-mile border with Mexico, Giffords focused her efforts on addressing border security and violence associated with drug trafficking in the region. In 2009, she invited 60 federal, state and local law enforcement officers to a drug violence summit, in order to address the trafficking issues in northern Mexico and their effect on the United States.
When Giffords won the November 2010 general election, she continued her fight to protect Arizona borders. She joined other Democratic members of her state's congressional delegation in supporting a $600 million border-security bill. This legislation, later signed by President Barack Obama, allowed for hiring of 1,000 border control agents and additional staffing in other areas of border-related personnel. According to the Tucson Sentinel, she said the newly approved funds were "a down payment on long-overdue efforts to secure our border."
In addition to her border security efforts, Giffords pushed for small business tax relief and limits to the alternative minimum tax. She was also an outspoken supporter of the health care reform bill of 2010, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Her push for universal healthcare drew criticism from some of her constituents; the senator was allegedly harassed because of her support for the measure. Her office was later vandalized, an attack that may have been connected to her vote in support of the Affordable Care Act.
On January 8, 2011, Giffords went to an event called "Congress On Your Corner" at a Tucson grocery store. She wanted to give her constituents a chance to meet with her, but the event soon turned deadly when 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords in the head. In addition to wounding the congresswoman, Loughner wounded several others and killed six people, including District Court Judge John M. Roll, a 9-year-old girl, and an aide to Giffords. Hours after the shooting, President Barack Obama released a statement condemning the attack, stating that "such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers."
After the shooting, Giffords was rushed to the hospital where she underwent emergency surgery. She made a remarkable comeback from her injuries in the weeks and months that followed. She regained her ability to talk, walk and handle other everyday activities after going through extensive rehabilitation. Giffords was even well enough to attend the launch the Space Shuttle Endeavour that May. Her husband, Mark Kelly, was the commander of that mission.
Her assailant, Jared Lee Loughner, pleaded not guilty to the shooting-related charges in 2011. The following August, he switched his plea to guilty to avoid the death penalty. In November 2012, he was sentenced to seven life terms plus 140 years in prison, according to the New York Times.
Resignation from Congress
In January 2012, more than a year after the attempt on her life, Giffords resigned from Congress to devote her time to her recovery. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a friend and colleague of Giffords, read her resignation letter aloud to the House. The note said, in part: "The only way I ever served my district in Congress was by giving 100 percent. This past year, that's what I have given to my recovery." Giffords, who was on hand for the reading, claimed that she would one day to seek office again. In her letter, she told colleagues, "Every day I am working hard. I will recover and will return and we will work together again for Arizona and for all Americans."
Her life-changing ordeal has only strengthened her marriage to Mark Kelly, who retired from NASA in 2011. The couple penned a book together about her recovery, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, which was published in 2011. Giffords and Kelly also co-founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization that seeks to reduce gun violence. Its mission, according to its Facebook page, is to "encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership by communicating directly with the constituents that elect them."
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