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Arizonan Giffords praised as 'kindhearted'

| Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

When Kathy Dahlkemper didn't know where to go, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords offered her help.

Dahlkemper, an Erie Democrat, lost re-election in November, and the lease on her Washington apartment was up with weeks of work remaining in Congress. Giffords, who rented an apartment in the same building, offered her a place to stay. Dahlkemper lived with Giffords during her last few weeks in Congress.

"She couldn't be more generous, more kindhearted," Dahlkemper said Saturday as she awaited word on whether her friend would survive a gunshot wound in the head. "She's just a wonderful person. I can't say enough about her."

Giffords and at least 15 others were shot at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, where she invited constituents via Twitter to "please stop by and let me know what is on your mind." At least six people were killed, including Pittsburgh-born U.S. District Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl.

"The world's gone mad," said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, who defeated Dahlkemper. "It makes no sense. You just shake your head and say, 'My God, my God, my God. What have we come to?' She's a wife, a mother, a young woman serving her country."

Dahlkemper described the wounded Arizona Democrat as a tireless advocate for her district, a dedicated wife and mother and a genuine friend.

"She was one of the last ones I spoke with when I departed," said former Rep. Joe Sestak, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, the same year as Giffords, and sat beside her during Armed Services Committee hearings. "She really is a great public servant and person. ... She's one of my favorites."

When generals appeared before the committee, Giffords pushed them to ensure that National Guard equipment got the same maintenance as Army equipment used by solders on active duty, Sestak said. The National Guard Association awarded her its Charles Dick Medal of Merit in 2009.

Though Giffords' trip home takes about nine hours, she made it every weekend, Dahlkemper said. Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, an astronaut, makes a regular weekend trip from Houston so the couple can spend a few days together on a regular basis.

"They really give up a lot for her service to the country," Dahlkemper said.

Giffords was doing her job when she was attacked, Sestak noted.

"She was doing what a congressperson should be doing. She wasn't waiting for the next election; she's doing it now," he said.

"We're supposed to be close to the people, highly accessible," said Rep. Tim Murphy, an Upper St. Clair Republican who got to know Giffords during an overseas trip.

The shooting at an open event "is a concern for many of us" who hold town meetings and other public gatherings, he said.

"Here she is out on a weekend, meeting with her constituents, and this happens," said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forrest Hills.

Dahlkemper and Giffords were members of the Democrats' conservative Blue Dog coalition.

"We came from very similar districts. She had a tough race, and I did, too. We were put in Sarah Palin's cross hairs," Dahlkemper said, referring to a controversial political graphic that Palin posted online in March with gun-sight cross hairs over 20 targeted Democratic districts.

Doyle said the political climate has changed dramatically since he first took office 17 years ago. After their votes for the health care law, Dahlkemper received a threatening letter and Giffords' office was vandalized.

"It's just so senseless. There's no reason for this kind of rhetoric," Dahlkemper said. "If you disagree with us politically or ideologically, then work on it politically. Don't threaten people. ... All of us feel that the rhetoric has gone too far."

That includes Mike Kelly.

"If it really is winning at all costs, then we've lost our way," he said.

He learned of the shooting while attending a weekend of seminars with most of the freshman representatives. Before they arrived in Williamsburg, Va., on Friday, federal security forces swarmed the town; snipers took positions on the roof of the fire department, according to The Virginia Gazette.

"This is what we've come to," Kelly said.

Additional Information:

Gabrielle Giffords

Title: U.S. representative, Congressional District 8

Birth date: June 8, 1970

Family: Husband, Mark Kelly; step-daughters, Claire and Claudia Kelly

Other occupation: Giffords Capital Management LLC (2000-present)

Education: Harvard University, Kennedy School Executive Management 2003

Previous public service: U.S. representative, Congressional District 8, AZ (2006-08); senator, Arizona Legislature, District 28 (2002-05); representative, Arizona Legislature, District 13 (2000-02); precinct committeewoman, District 13 (2000-02); precinct committeewoman, District 28 (2002-08).

Additional Information:

Major threats

Threats against legislators resulting in charges:

Lawmakers receive a steady stream of harassing phone calls, e-mails and letters, according to the Capitol police. Many threats are investigated and some result in criminal charges. Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and seriously wounded Saturday in Tucson. Here are some threats in the past year against lawmakers that resulted in prosecutions:

March 2010: A Pennsylvania man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House. Norman LeBoon was initially declared incompetent to stand trial by a federal judge, but he later pleaded guilty to two counts and is due to be sentenced in February.

April 2010: A San Francisco man was arrested and charged with making threatening, harassing and obscene phone calls to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the debate over health care reform, which eventually became law. Gregory Lee Giusti was accused of making at least 48 calls to Pelosi. He pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

April 2010: A Washington man was arrested and accused of threatening to kill Democratic Sen. Patty Murray because of her votes to back the health care reform legislation. Charles Wilson was accused of making the threats against the senator in voice-mail messages to her office. Wilson pleaded guilty in July and was sentenced in October to a year in prison and three years of supervised release.

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