Congressional District 8 spans four Southern Arizona counties, reaching south toward Mexico, north to SaddleBrooke, to the rural ranchlands east of Tucson and into the heart of our metropolitan area.
The district, however, was forged Jan. 8, 2011, when six people were killed and 13 wounded at a meet-and-greet in Tucson with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot through the head but survived. Her personal story, and the strength of Southern Arizonans pulling together in tragedy, put CD8 on the national landscape.
After months of rehabilitation to regain mobility and speech, Giffords, a Democrat, decided she was unable to complete her third term. CD8 is now in play politically and the national Republican Party is pouring money into flipping the seat.
On June 12 the voters will decide who is best to complete the congresswoman's term. Also at stake is whether centrist advocacy for Southern Arizona will continue through January 2013.
Ron Barber was at Giffords' side as her district director. He should continue to serve CD8 as its congressman.
On Jan. 8, 2011, Barber was shot twice and nearly died during the assassination attempt on Giffords. While his life irrevocably changed that day, Barber has met the challenge with grace, clarity of purpose and maturity. And the district staff continues to provide constituent assistance without interruption.
Barber has spent his life in public service. When the lasting effects of his injuries were still unknown, he focused personal and public attention on coping with our community's great loss and how to move forward together.
With his family he created a foundation that funds anti-bullying programs in schools, raises money to help fellow Jan. 8 victims and advocates for better mental health services.
Barber said Giffords asked him to run in this special election, but he is no placeholder. He is the strongest, most knowledgeable candidate about the needs of the district. He possesses hands-on experience, intellectual complexity and wisdom that his competitors - Republican Jesse Kelly and Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis - have failed to demonstrate.
His maturity speaks volumes about his potential as our next congressman.
Take, for example, how Barber responded to a question about gun laws at Wednesday's debate, sponsored by the Arizona Daily Star and hosted by the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
"The Second Amendment is one of the most important amendments in our Constitution and I support it. You know, I had an experience with a gun not too long ago. A lot of people say, 'Ron, do you want to change the gun laws?' I say no. I want to change how it is that we restrict people who shouldn't have guns from having them."
In this space, we, too, have championed more effective gun restrictions and have advocated for reforms for mental health care. Barber's answer and his actions throughout his public life demonstrate his commitment to the same goals.
CD8 is politically and economically diverse. It leans Republican in party registration, followed closely by Democrats and independents. Its residents have front-row seats to many of the most important national issues.
For example, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are potent political targets, especially in a district that includes the large retirement communities of Green Valley and SaddleBrooke.
Yet taking a sound-bite position to "save" or "protect seniors" is insulting and even fails as a political scare tactic. Simple math makes it clear that privatizing Social Security or allowing younger workers to opt out won't work. Multiple changes to the existing system are required.
Two years ago Kelly called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" and said that those on Medicare were "on the public dole." Today, he promises to protect Social Security for seniors. He will not explain the obvious contradiction.
Barber, however, offers a list of options - increasing the amount of income taxed for Social Security, for example - but, as he told us, no single member of Congress can overhaul the system.
It requires bipartisan effort to get into the weeds and make specific changes to preserve these vital federal programs now and for the next generations.
The same is true with health-care reform. Kelly has repeatedly said, as he did at the public debate, that he would scrap the entire health-care reform law. Throw it out, he said.
Barber advocates keeping beneficial provisions, such as free preventive care for seniors, the requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions and also eliminate the lifetime dollar cap on coverage. Additionally, he sees problems that need fixing.
Congress is not an all-or-nothing place and effectiveness requires balance. A mature candidate understands that value.
Barber's involvement in the district provides him ample insight into a host of issues, including border security, mentioned too infrequently on the campaign trail. Barber knows that build-a-taller-fence tactics won't work, nor will flooding the region with more Border Patrol or other law enforcement officers.
"It's not so much the resources but how those resources are used," he told us. Barber has worked on these issues for years, and his firsthand experience is an asset.
Solar power was one of Giffords' signature issues. It makes sense in Southern Arizona. Barber knows that solar holds tremendous promise as an energy source, and for local employment. It makes sense for the government to help support this growing industry through tax policy. He has been clear in his support.
Barber does not have a flashy personality and, to be blunt, isn't a dynamic politician. He's learned a great deal campaigning. And his performance at the debate indicates his inclusive leadership style is now powered by even more determination.
The foundation Barber has built over his decades in Southern Arizona, combined with his experience, empathy, depth of character and integrity are excellent qualifications.
Democrat Ron Barber is best for Southern Arizona. He is our choice to represent Congressional District 8.
Arizona Daily Star