By Elise Viebeck - 05/30/11 01:44 PM EDT
A surge in constituent casework is one challenge that has confronted the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) since her Jan. 8 shooting, thanks to media coverage and word-of-mouth recommendations.
“When she was first elected, Gabby told everyone on her team that she wanted to have the best constituent services operation in Congress, and that is still our goal,” says C.J. Karamargin, Giffords's spokesman. “People tell people: ‘Giffords’s office can get the job done.’”
House leadership in the 111th Congress, under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), estimated that Giffords’s staff fielded approximately four times the average number of constituent cases as other offices.
Today, those cases come not only from parts of Arizona outside her district, but from around the country. (Karamargin says those from other districts are referred to their local lawmaker.)
“I don’t know how widely known it is that a congressional office can you help you when you have problems with your Medicare, or Social Security,” Karamargin says. “But it's obvious that the extensive media coverage helped people see us as a resource, which we are.”
The uptick in inquiries is just one of many adjustments the staff has made since January, when Giffords underwent several surgeries for the bullet wound in her skull.
In the House Armed Services Committee, of which Giffords is a member, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) works with Giffords’s legislative director Peter Ambler to bring issues concerning southeastern Arizona to the table.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who struck up a friendship with Giffords in 2010, visited the southern Arizona border in the spring and was hosted by Giffords's staff.
He later introduced legislation “on the congresswoman's behalf" to help improve cell-phone communication in rural areas. Service coverage issues have made border residents less safe, Giffords's office says.
More recently, Giffords's Blue Dog colleagues Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.) and John Barrow (D-Ga.) also visited the border, where they spoke with ranchers and Border Patrol officials. Her office organized the trip.
"Congresswoman Giffords has told her colleagues on numerous occasions that seeing the border for yourself ... is the best way to understand what is happening," said Giffords chief of staff Pia Carusone.
Smith recently held a fundraiser for Giffords near the Capitol.
Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), now chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, have done the same.
But it's the constituent-services front, staffers say, that is their priority.
In early February, they helped a Tucson woman escape Cairo as the violence escalated there.
In another case, they helped a local defense contractor whose identity had been stolen reestablish himself and regain his security clearance.
Karamargin later attended the man's wedding, as a representative of the office.
“The list of positive things that have come out of Jan. 8 can be minuscule compared with the heartbreak of that day,” Karamargin says. “But we are determined as an office to focus on those things that we can do.”
“We have a very long ‘can’t-wait-to-tell-Gabby’ list.”