By Ramsey Cox - 07/16/12 09:00 AM EDT
Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) was thrust into the national spotlight on the morning he was shot alongside former-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
But Barber doesn’t want to focus on the horror of the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting — he’d rather people know about the heroism that occurred in its wake.
“I was very lucky, but I don’t want to dwell on the shooting so much as what happened afterward,” Barber told The Hill. “People came to our aid. Ordinary citizens without medical training came to help us.”
He nearly bled out at the grocery store in Tucson, Ariz., where Giffords was holding a “Congress on Your Corner” event. Jared Lee Loughner is accused of shooting 19 people that day, six of whom died.
“One woman, I know [she] absolutely saved my life by staunching the bleeding,” Barber said. “So some of us who survived are here because of the goodness and care of our community.”
While the international media were drawn to Tucson because of the violence, Barber said the shooting also allowed people to see the kindness of the city’s people.
“What happened right after the shooting was just another example of the tone and the spirit of the community,” Barber said.
“People surrounded us with love and caring, and that’s who the people of my community are — and they’ve always been that way. But the tragedy allowed them to have those attitudes — that approach — magnified, and the whole world got to see what kind of community we are.”
Shortly after his decision to run to replace Giffords, Barber faced a major challenge convincing people that she didn’t own that congressional seat.
“When I first announced, many people said to me, ‘Oh I’m so glad you’re going to fill Gabby’s seat.’ And I reminded them over and over again — and actually in the congresswoman’s presence — that this is not her seat,” Barber said.
“As much as I respect and admire the congresswoman — and I do — and she’s been a great inspiration to me … All of that aside, it’s not her seat. It’s not my seat. It’s the people’s seat.”
Barber beat Republican Jesse Kelly 53 percent to 45 percent in a June special election. In his next primary challenge, he faces state Rep. Matt Heinz (D), on Aug. 28.
Referring to the possibility of contesting four elections within one year, Barber said: “How crazy is that? But I’m up for it, and I feel energized by the whole opportunity to serve and feel ready to run two more races.”
Barber was placed on two important committees for his district after his election last month: the Homeland Security Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
Arizona’s 8th district has two military installations in it — Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force base.
Barber said he’s looking to protect and expand those bases despite the looming defense sequestration, which could put them in jeopardy.
Previously as a district director, Barber dealt extensively with issues taken up by the Homeland Security Committee.
“Most of my work was directed at district issues: What can we do to respond to constituent concerns at the district level? And that’s where border security became a huge aspect of what we were talking about,” Barber said.
When meeting with ranchers and business people, Barber said he heard repeated concerns about the drug trade as Mexican cartels expanded their business across the border.
“Particularly those [people] living close to the border said, ‘We no longer feel safe in our homes because of the cartels and the violence and drug running,’ ” he said.
“So I worked with the congresswoman on detailing, with the input from the community, those items [where] we needed to increase our assets on the border and border security.”
Barber has been consistent on that issue. In his first congressional vote, he sided with Republicans to pass the Conservation and Economic Growth Act, H.R. 2578, which increased Border Patrol authority to pursue smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico Border.
Barber said serving on the House Homeland Security Committee is an opportunity not to just deal with border security but also immigration reform — something important to his district, which borders Mexico.
“One way that we can fix [immigration] — Congress could vote on it if it chose — is the DREAM Act, which would certainly give an opportunity to hundreds of thousands of young people, who want to either go into the military or get further education, [who] came here through no fault of their own as kids. I mean, that to me is a no-brainer,” Barber said.
“But the first thing we need to talk about is, how do we make sure that people are safe in their homes along the border?”
Barber also sided with Republicans when voting to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in civil contempt over Operation Fast and Furious, where federal agents lost track of about 1,400 weapons, some of which got into the hands of the violent cartels. Barber voted against holding Holder in criminal contempt.
“For me the difference between the two [votes] is: one, you have to be able to get the records to complete the [congressional] investigation. Holding the Attorney General in criminal contempt is way over the top and should not be done,” Barber said.
“We can’t lose sight through all of this that a border patrol agent [Brian Terry] lost his life.”