Arizona was shot through the heart last Saturday. We lost friends, neighbors and a beloved child. We gained a number of heroes, the comfort of strangers and a newfound respect for public service.

I count Gabrielle Giffords as a friend. This makes me a select member of a small circle of about a 1.3 million people here in Southern Arizona. Gabby projects intelligence and optimism with the same predictable, natural ease with which the sun rises over the Rincons every day.

She's as sharp as a saguaro needle. She loves to talk about the future of our state. I have seen her disarm furious critics who were burning a short fuse ignited by misinformation. She uses genuine empathy and earnest respect for this nation's highest office: citizen.

Gabby has mentioned more than once that she was taken aback by the vitriol that has taken root in our state. But she is convinced that even the most cynical citizens here in our frontier possess a decent wisdom that will shine once given the facts and the respectful ear of an earnest public servant. I have never heard her use partisan language.

Gabby is what is called a Blue Dog Democrat, one who admires Ronald Reagan. She is a radical member of a small revolutionary cabal of policymakers in Congress, a centrist who has been known to associate with moderates. She didn't have to "reach across the aisle." She was smack dab in middle of it.

The middle is a strange and lonely place to be in these polarized times. It requires conviction and maturity. Her positions are thoughtful and rooted in the real world. She is a practitioner of a peculiar form of governance that is uncommon in Arizona: evidence-based policymaking, a fancy phrase meaning you wait until the facts are in.

That's something that many of us did not do this week.

Earlier this week I apologized for my remarks on CNN blaming the extreme atmosphere here in Arizona for the tragedy. As a result I have had flooding in my office to rival that in Australia. I'm chin-high in e-mails from angry extremists around the nation accusing me, in a hateful and partisan manner, of being, well, hateful and partisan.

Like the evangelist who blamed God's wrath for Hurricane Katrina, I spewed a whopper and I apologized. And I'm only apologizing again because Gabby would disapprove of such an irrelevant cheap shot.

I have since forwarded all of my calls and e-mails to Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who I think is a fine fellow for taking the heat off of me. I understand he is a flame-retardant man and that will work to his benefit during these times.

I can understand how the targets of my ridicule would find me partisan. I am a flaming moderate at the fringe of America's center, which by some standards makes me a commie.

I think my friends on the right have run so far to the political edge that they hang over the abyss and, like Wile E. Coyote, unaware of the effect of gravity, they growl at those who choose not to follow.

My friends on the right cannot fathom why my friends on the left would jump to the conclusion that the crime was political and my friends on the left cannot grasp why my friends on the right are defensive and angry. This truly is the Grand Canyon State and the Canyon is growing deeper and wider every day, with moderates drowning in the river down below.

When I get an angry or insulting note, I often will swallow the insults and respond as politely as I can. Within two or three back-and-forth exchanges, we see the humanity in each other and can generally part as fellow citizens. My favorite happened years ago when a reader finished by saying, "Well I guess you're not an idiot after all. But when it comes to politics I still think you're an slimeball."

Gabby, get better. We're praying for you. And Arizona, too.