Lawmakers see more security but want to remain accessible

2011-01-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:47:23Z Lawmakers see more security but want to remain accessibleRhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 11, 2011 12:00 am  • 

It wasn't unusual that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords didn't have a security detail at the constituent meeting that turned so deadly Saturday.

While political temperatures had reached fevered pitch last year during the health-care debates and the ensuing election cycle, it is nonetheless rare for local politicians to have such security, with the exception of Gov. Jan Brewer and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, whose whip status in Senate leadership provides more protection.

But in many cases, that's going to change, although political figures say they aren't likely to scale back discussions with voters.

While U.S. Sen. John McCain's office said he has no intention of altering the way he interacts with constituents, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva said he has an ambitious outreach schedule for the new year, but admits "security is now on the front burner."

Grijalva will meet with local law enforcement to discuss changes.

"I can say I'm not afraid and just go out there and do what I need to do, but the point of the matter is, it's about more than just me," Grijalva said. "It's about the members of the public who might come to talk with us because they have a question about health care or something. It's about the people who work for us. And it's about our families."

Up until now, he said, while he wasn't cavalier about security issues and acknowledged he has become a lightning rod in some hot topics, he admits he dismissed some recent vandalism and threats as the work of "cranks."

Grijalva said it would be a "sad commentary" if elected officials were to become sequestered in a bubble, or resort to more arms-length communication with constituents, such as resorting strictly to phone conference calls.

"I'm not going to let that happen, but I'm also not going to expose my constituents or the people who work for me or my family to anything that might be dangerous. So certainly, precautions and security will be much tighter."

Genevieve Frye Rozansky, the press secretary for Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, noted there was a conference call Sunday, organized at the direction of new Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, to allow members and their staffs to talk with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI about security measures moving forward. While she said she wouldn't want to reveal the substance of those discussions, she said she does not expect any reduction in Flake's contact with his constituents.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, likewise declined to talk about those measures: "We don't discuss anything that has to do with the security of the members," she said.

State Democratic Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson said he's been doing a lot of contemplation since the Saturday tragedy.

"I've done a lot of these town hall events, similar to what Gabby has done," he said, and while some might have been unruly, there was no violence.

He noticed some differences already this year for the launch of the legislative session. Members used the back door, which offered tighter security, and visitors went through metal detectors.

But Patterson also said he sensed a new togetherness.

"There's a feeling here today that maybe there is some renewed respect among the members," he said. "And I hope it lasts, although it's extremely sad that it takes this kind of tragic attack to bring us together.

"But if somehow, all the elected officials make themselves less accessible, then the shooter wins and our democracy will be damaged."

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Latest Election 2014 video

More

Election 2014: Columnist Tim Steller reviews attack ads

The Star's Tim Steller and Joe Ferguson break down campaign attack ads.

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Get weekly ads via e-mail