C.J. Karamargin isn’t the first congressional staffer to cross the partisan aisle, but some Democrats are shocked this former staffer to Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is working for the new Republican congresswoman in Arizona’s 2nd District.
On Jan. 9, in a hiring coup, freshman GOP Rep. Martha E. McSally announced Karamargin as her new district director. Karamargin was communications director for Giffords at the time of the Tucson shootings before handling media relations for Pima Community College. The timing of the hiring — just one day after the four-year anniversary of the Tucson tragedy — also gnawed at still-raw wounds among Giffords’ allies. “Yeah, that’s pretty poor timing,” said a Democratic source who hadn’t heard about the hiring until contacted by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call. “It’s sad. But I’m bitter, I know.”
On Jan. 8, 2011, Jared Loughner shot and killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords and then-aide Ron Barber, at a constituent event in a grocery store parking lot.
“We are like family, and this was uncharted territory,” Karamargin told The Washington Post six weeks after the shooting.
Giffords subsequently resigned from Congress, and Barber won the special election to replace her. After narrowly losing to Barber in 2012, McSally defeated the congressman by 167 votes in November.
Giffords' political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions, was active in the race for Barber and against McSally. Karamargin is a former journalist with the Tucson Citizen and Arizona Daily Star.
“I do know that yesterday he didn't let anyone know that he was applying in McSally's office,” a second Democrat said on Jan. 9. Karamargin attended some of the memorial events on Jan. 8, according to the source, but was conspicuously absent from the private dinner hosted by Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
More than 50 people attended the event including survivors, first responders and virtually all of her former staff, except for a few who live out of state. Attendees also included former Giffords scheduler Pam Harrington, who served on McSally’s transition team, and Shay Saucedo, who now works for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“The residents of Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District have entrusted Congresswoman McSally with a tremendous responsibility — to be their voice and their advocate in Washington,” Karamargin said in the release . “It is humbling that she has entrusted me with the responsibility to serve as her District Director. I consider it a great privilege to be able to help the congresswoman make a positive difference in the lives of the people who sent her to Washington.”
Karamargin told The Arizona Republic he would not comment further. He did not return an email request for comment from CQ Roll Call.
“I’m not surprised she would try,” the second Democrat said about McSally, who read the names of the shooting victims from the House floor on Jan. 8. “But I’m surprised anyone would join [McSally’s] operation, yes.”