Ron Barber.


Ending weeks of speculation, Ron Barber announced he will run in a special election to finish out the term of his former boss, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

He enters the race with the full backing of Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, who sent out an email early Thursday afternoon touting Barber's experience and vowing to get him 1,000 donors by Monday.

Barber said he's running in part because Giffords asked him to fulfill her term.

"I'm not a politician, I never intended to run for office, but the circumstances are such that I feel compelled to do so," Barber said Thursday morning.

Barber announced his plans Thursday morning by sending out a press release and calling members of the news media. He also plans to hold news conference this afternoon.

Barber, who was shot once in the cheek and once in the upper leg on Jan. 8, 2011 at the Congress On Your Corner event at a northwest side supermarket, said he's focused on the special election but did not close the door on a future run in the newly-drawn Congressional District 2 later this year.

"I'm really focused on one election at a time," Barber said. "It would be presumptive of me to start thinking about another election in another district."

The special election set into motion by Giffords' resignation is fast approaching with a primary on April 17 and the general election June 12. Giffords stepped down to focus on her recovery from being shot in the head in an assassination attempt.

The special election will be in the existing Congressional District 8, in which Republicans have an advantage in registered voters. In the regular election in the new district of CD2, the gap between Democrats and Republicans is minimal.

In the Democratic primary for the special election, state Rep. Matt Heinz of Tucson was the only candidate to officially announce, but he stepped aside Thursday afternoon and endorsed Barber. It remains to be seen if any other Democrats will join the race or if Barber will run unopposed. They have until Feb. 27 to collect 671 signatures.

On the Republican side, five candidates have joined the race.

Barber served as the district director for Giffords from 2007 until she retired last month. After the shooting, he launched the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which became a highly public effort to focus on helping the community heal with a focus on civility and mental health awareness.

Barber sustained nerve damage in his lower left leg after being shot and he walks with a cane. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, often having flashbacks.

He said Thursday that his health is good and that he carefully analyzed whether he had the stamina and energy to take on this demanding job.

"I absolutely do," Barber said.

Another key factor in his decision to run was talking it over with his family, who he says are on board and supportive.

He said he would work to continue Giffords' policies while also implementing some of his own ideas. Nobody can fill Giffords' shoes, Barber said, but he vowed to continue her legacy of putting problem-solving before politics.

"Compromise is not a bad word," Barber said.

In an email sent Thursday afternoon, Giffords' husband, Kelly, touted Barber as a "leader who puts politics aside and brings people together."

Before working for Giffords, Barber ran the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities.

If elected, Barber said he would continue to focus on medical and mental health services for veterans; helping families avoid foreclosures; and working to create more job opportunities in Southern Arizona. Balancing the budget the right way by protecting Social Security and Medicare, and making sure there are sufficient resources to secure the border are also priorities, he said.

And while he doesn't know yet if he would run again in the November general election he downplayed the idea of him being a placeholder, insisting that he will give 100 percent to the job.

"I don't intend to be a caretaker," Barber said. "That is not in my nature."

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or