In her first term in Congress, 8th District Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been “surprised by the deep rancor” of “deep-rooted partisanship” in Washington.
“There is no hate like an old hate,” the Democrat said after a meeting of the Marana Chamber of Commerce. “It’s been challenging, dealing with the mentality and mindset of older legislators” on either side of the aisle.
These two years, the Tucson resident also learned the “power of the bully pulpit,” and utilized the ability of a legislator to “call agency directors” to address constituent concerns.
“A lot of this stuff’s done without creating a law,” she said.
Giffords points to discussions with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials as an example. FEMA’s new map of the floodplain in greater Marana would have increased residential flood insurance premiums by an estimated $9 million a year, she said.
“We did everything we could to go to bat to make sure we did what we could for the town of Marana,” Giffords said. The result, thus far, is a much smaller floodplain with less impact on Marana residents.
“We’re not quite done,” she said. “We are mostly there.”
Giffords works to present herself as a moderate in her campaign with former classmate and Republican Tim Bee for the 8th District seat. Republican advertising says Giffords is “proud to be a liberal.” Her own campaign literature suggests she “isn’t afraid to put her foot down to protect your tax dollar.”
The rescue plan
Giffords’ votes on the financial sector rescue were among her most difficult.
“We no longer call it the bail out,” Giffords told the luncheon audience. “We call it the economic recovery package. Let’s get it straight. Language matters.”
When the proposal for a $700 billion credit system package was announced by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to thaw frozen credit markets, more than 4,000 people contacted Giffords’ office, she said. Inquirers were split “50-50, between ‘no’ and ‘hell no,’” she said. Giffords voted with the majority to defeat that plan.
“Then the market closed,” with a $1.2 trillion loss the next day. People felt pain in their 401(k), retirement and pension plans.
“It was important for us to step in and do something,” she said. “That’s why I decided to change my vote. Ultimately, I felt it was the most important and responsive thing to vote for this legislation.
“You elect me for the hard votes,” Giffords said.
She points out the legislation contains safety nets and examination by the Government Accounting Office. “Oversight is absolutely critical,” she said.
After five years, the president is “required to report back to determine whether we’ve been paid back. … If not, the financial industry must reimburse. This is not a bailout check. This is a loan.”
And, she said, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance on bank deposits has increased from $100,000 to $250,000 for an individual. “That provides additional security,” she said.
Giffords is aware of the complaints that the final bill contains unnecessary expenditures.
“It’s easy to call anything pork if you don’t like it,” Giffords said. While she found a number of tax credits to be of value, “there were some junky parts of the bill I wouldn’t have supported under normal circumstances.
“These are not normal circumstances,” Giffords said. “This is a very serious time.”
A recent foreclosure avoidance workshop Giffords put on was “probably the most depressing experience I’ve had,” with people of all economic situations and backgrounds trying to keep their homes and avoid foreclosure. It is emotionally draining and tragic, the Democrat said.
“There is plenty of blame to spread around. The lending situation got out of hand,” she said. “This is an egregious example of too much de-regulation.”
Giffords remains an optimist, despite economic turmoil. She expects an economic stimulus package “right after the election,” regardless of who wins.
On the home front
Giffords believes Arizona can become “the Solarcon Valley of the world” with its development of solar energy. Giffords, who has participated in 25 events or meetings on solar energy since her election, believes America has “gone down a wrong road” with its reliance upon foreign oil. “Climate change is real. Clean-burning energy is absolutely the best thing we can do.”
Solar energy demonstration projects in Southern Arizona can “send a message we are serious about solar energy,” she said. The eight-year extension of the renewable energy tax credit should attract capital investment, she believes.
Marana means “thick, dense vegetation” in Spanish.
“You’re no longer a thicket,” Giffords told the group, mentioning the Ritz-Carlton, Northwest Medical Center, the fact “Tiger Woods comes to Marana” for the Accenture match play golf tournament, and that Olympic silver medalist Lacey Nymeyer calls Marana home.
“You’ve got very good roots here,” she said.
Bee was invited to the Marana chamber luncheon. He had another commitment.