Unlike her predecessor Martha McSally, newly elected U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will start holding Congress on Your Corner events once she is sworn into office in January.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged that one of Tucson’s darkest chapters — the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting that killed six and wounded 13 others, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — happened at a Congress on Your Corner event, and in the same district.
But the public deserves direct access to elected representatives, Kirkpatrick said in making the announcement Wednesday.
The 68-year-old Democrat said she needed no convincing to restart the public meetings, citing demand from constituents. She compared the gatherings to the “Chat with Ann” events she held when she was in Flagstaff representing northern Arizona; Kirkpatrick previously represented CD 1 for two terms.
“What I heard most from people on the campaign trail was that they didn’t have a representative that was listening to them and was accessible,” Kirkpatrick said.
The current CD2 representative, Republican McSally, shied away from similar events and instead focused on smaller, more tightly controlled public events including issue-centric roundtables with stakeholders and private meetings with employee groups.
McSally was the target of threats that led the FBI to arrest a Tucson man in 2017.
During her four years in the office, McSally made a staple of singing the national anthem at local public events, but those events offered little public interaction. The CD2 seat became open when McSally ran for U.S. Senate this year, in a race against Kyrsten Sinema that remains too close to call; Kirkpatrick defeated Republican Lea Marquez Peterson in Tuesday’s election.
Kirkpatrick said there will be security at future Congress on Your Corner events, declining to elaborate, but that she didn’t hesitate to agree to the public forums when a close advisor suggested holding them in addition to town hall-style forums.
That advisor? Ron Barber — who was shot twice in the Jan. 8 mass shooting, and, after recovering, became the district’s Congress member himself after Giffords’ grave injuries forced her to step down.
Barber announced Wednesday that he will join Kirkpatrick’s staff as her district director — the same position he held when Giffords was in Congress.
Barber said meeting face-to-face with constituents without the filter of staffers and political supporters is crucial to helping constituents. In fact, he held a Congress on Your Corner event himself in 2012 at the same northwest-side supermarket where the mass shooting occurred.
Kirkpatrick said she did not consult others outside of her family (including Giffords, who supported her campaign), on the decision to renew Congress on Your Corner events.
Her family was supportive of her decision to hold very public meetings, she said.
Marion Chubon, president of Represent Me AZ, applauded the decision to start holding the public meetings.
The grassroots group was formed in 2016 in part out of frustration that McSally’s office repeatedly refused to meet with it or other groups and held relatively few public events.
“We are thrilled to hear that,” said Chubon, who supported Kirkpatrick’s campaign. “… We are so glad that she is honoring the promise she made to her constituents at our candidate debate in October to hold free public events at least quarterly to stay in touch with us.”