Ron Barber gets a hug from Gabrielle Giffords as they celebrate a victory… (Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo )
WASHINGTON -- Ron Barber, a onetime aide to former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was sworn into office as the newest congressman from Arizona -- a bittersweet moment that closed one era in the state’s political history and opened another.
The Democratic victory in the special election for Giffords' seat was a tempered one. Democrats in the House cheered their newest colleague Tuesday, but both parties welcomed Barber to the House as they paid tribute to Giffords, whose rising career came to a sudden halt after she was shot in the head at a 2011 meeting with constituents outside a Tucson grocery store. The shooting that left six dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.
Barber was among 11 people wounded in the incident, and became Giffords' choice for successor after she decided earlier this year not to return to Congress but to focus on her recovery.
“The world sometimes leads us down strange and troubling paths,” said Rep. Ed Pastor, the veteran Arizona Democrat who called the day “a tribute to Gabrielle Giffords, a tribute to the resiliency of the people of Arizona.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona welcomed Barber to the position Giffords wanted him to have.
“She got her wish,” Flake said.
Barber defeated a tea party Republican for the Tucson-area seat in a race that could provide an early bellwether of voter attitudes heading into the fall election. The district tilted Republican, but voters rejected the GOP candidate, Jesse Kelly, as Barber proved overwhelmingly popular.
Barber, whose grandchildren joined him on the House floor, noted not only Giffords in his first House address, but also the work of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and the Arizona political leaders Morris “Mo” Udall, a Democrat, and Republican Barry Goldwater.
He pledged to approach his new job with a bipartisan spirit -- “with an eye not toward partisan victory, but toward American achievement.”
“I look forward to working across party lines,” he said.
Boehner swore in the new member, who must run again in November for the seat that, because of redistricting, will lean slightly more Democratic in fall.