Ron Barber will be sworn in as the 112th Congress’ newest Member today after winning a special election to fill the seat of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
He first was a volunteer for Giffords’ staff. After the 2008 election, he was hired as full-time district director. He has already worked with the same Arizona delegation Members’ offices with which he’ll now have to partner on a different level. Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, who is running for Arizona’s Senate seat, says his staff worked with Barber and Giffords’ staff on a number of occasions. Flake said he would prefer a fellow GOP Member in the district, but he twice repeated that Barber was a “good man.” “It’s great for that district to have a representative again,” Flake said.
Barber’s injuries from the shooting included gunshot wounds to the face and leg. While he was recovering, Barber started a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance civility and respect by tackling issues such as bullying in schools.
“My wife keeps saying to me, ‘when exactly are you going to retire?’” the 66-year-old said, laughing. “I said to her, ‘Well, I don’t know, maybe next time.’”
The only immediately visible trace of the gunshot wounds Barber sustained is a dimple on his cheek. He also said he recently stopped walking with a cane.
After Giffords announced she would resign from the House, she directly asked Barber to run for her seat. The 8th district is known for swing voters with independent tendencies, and any race there was destined to gather national attention. Combined with the emotional links of filling “Gabby’s seat” in Congress, the special election drew not only media coverage but money, as both parties tried to use it as barometer for the general elections in November. Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly, who opposed Giffords in 2010, took the Republican nod.
More than $2 million was spent on the race, much in the form of television ads, by House campaign committees and outside politically aligned groups combined. Early voting played a large role in the race; Giffords came out toward the end of campaigning to support Barber.
Barber won 52 percent to Kelly’s 45 percent. He will have to run for re-election to the 113th Congress in a redrawn and renumbered district that is slightly more favorable to Democrats. While he now represents the 8th district, the district’s new number will be the 2nd.
Barber said he would like a seat on the Armed Services Committee; military needs, including Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, drive his district’s economy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office did not have information on his committee placement, but one of Giffords’ former committees, Science, Space and Technology, has a vacancy. Three other committees — Homeland Security, Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs — also have Democratic vacancies.
Barber is already knee-deep into his legislative plans. To improve the security of the U.S. border with Mexico, he wants to look at drug cartels using prepaid money cards to bring funds to Mexico and the ways that activity can be tracked and blocked. He wants manpower and the use of more high-tech devices, including unmanned aerial vehicles. He also wants to improve post-traumatic treatments for veterans.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.