Politician. Born Gabrielle Dee “Gabby” Giffords on June 8, 1970, in Tucson, Arizona, to mother Gloria Kay and father Spencer J. Giffords. Giffords was raised in a an upper middle-class Tucson family that included famous relatives such as director Bruce Paltrow and his daughter, actress Gwyneth Paltrow.
Giffords earned her bachelor degree from Scripps College in 1993, majoring in Latin American history and sociology. Her hard work was rewarded with a coveted William Fulbright Scholarship, which she used to study in Chihuahua, Mexico. While she earned a master’s degree in urban planning at Cornell University, Giffords worked as a planner at the University of San Diego, followed by a job at Price Waterhouse in 1996. She then returned to Tucson to take on the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of her family’s tire company, El Campo Tire, Inc. Giffords earned a master’s degree in urban planning from Cornell University in 1997, but continued working for her family’s business until 2000, when she decided to form her own business. That year, she formed a commercial property management firm in Tucson, and served as its managing partner.
That same year Giffords, at one time a Republican, switched over to the Democratic party and decided to try her hand at politics. She was elected to a seat in the Arizona State House on her first try for office. After serving one term, Giffords ran for Arizona Senate in 2002, winning 74 percent of the vote after incumbent Democratic Senator Virginia Yrun decided to end her campaign due to personal issues. With her victory, Giffords became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate. She was re-elected in 2004, after defeating Republican Charles Josephson, 64 percent to 33 percent.
Her term was short-lived, however; the self-described “centrist Democrat” resigned from office in December 2005 to seek the congressional seat being vacated by Representative Jim Kolbe of the 8th Congressional Disctrict. As the first to announce her candidacy for Kolbe’s seat, Giffords established herself as his natural replacement, and began an aggressive campaign for the seat. By the September 2006 primary, Giffords had rasied more than $1 million in campaign contributions. Come election time, the former state Senator defeated Republican Randy Graf by earning 54 percent of the vote.
Giffords earned re-election in 2008, defeating Republican state Senate President Timothy Bee, a childhood schoolmate, with 55 percent of the vote. She also sits on the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Science & Technology committees, and chairs both the Energy & Environment and Space & Aeronautics subcommittees.
As the head of a district that shares a 100-mile border with Mexico, Giffords focused her efforts on addressing border trafficking and violence. In 2009, she invited 60 federal, state and local law enforcement officers to a drug violence summit, in order to address the trafficking issues in northern Mexico and their effect on the United States. She also reached out to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to address border trafficking issues. When Giffords won the November 2010 general election, she continued her fight to protect Arizona borders, and joined other Democratic members of her state’s congressional delegation in supporting a $600 million border-security bill. In May of that year, she was the first to announce that President Barack Obama had decided to send 1,200 National Guard troops to protect the Arizona-Mexico border.
In addition to her border security efforts, Giffords pushed for small business tax relief and limits to the alternative minimum tax. She was also an outspoken supporter of the health care reform bill of 2010, also known as The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Her push for universal healthcare drew criticism from her some of her constituents; the senator was allegedly harassed because of her support for the measure, and her office was later vandalized.
Tensions about Giffords’ political decisions came to a head on January 8, 2011, when 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords in the head during a meeting with constituents outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson. After emergency surgery, doctors said they were hopeful for Giffords’ recovery. In addition to wounding the congresswoman, Loughner killed District Court Judge John M. Roll, a 9-year-old girl, and at least four others, including an aide to Giffords.
Hours after the shooting, President Barack Obama released a statement condemning the attack, stating that “such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers.”
Giffords is married to Captain Mark E. Kelly, a NASA astronaut and Navy captain. Her husband is the scheduled commander of the 134th Nasa shuttle flight, the last planned shuttle mission using the space shuttle Endeavour, set to launch April 1, 2011. He will meet his twin brother, Scott Kelly, in space at the International Space Station (ISS), which he is commanding. Giffords is currently the only U.S. representative with an active duty military spouse.