Before Shooting, Giffords Wanted To Calm Rhetoric
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The night before Gabrielle Giffords and others were gunned down, she was thinking about how to calm down the kind of inflammatory rhetoric she'd experienced in her recent campaign. And so this Democratic congresswoman reached out to a Republican. It was her friend, Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson, who had just announced that day he was leaving politics after his own failed bid for a Senate seat.
In an email sent the night before she was shot, Giffords wrote Grayson that she wanted to talk to him about what they could do to get beyond harsh political attacks and promote moderation. We reached Trey Grayson to hear more.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. TREY GRAYSON (Former Kentucky Secretary of State): Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: There were some pretty over-the-top moments during the campaign for Congresswoman Giffords' seat. One of those moments was her opponent's fundraiser, that he called Target Victory, and he invited his supporters to fire M-16s with him. This disturbed her. Did you ever discuss these sort of actions with her?
Mr. GRAYSON: I didnt talk too much with her about the specifics of this campaign. I certainly followed it. But I think that this passion for her - and I'll use that term - to try to overcome this partisanship and bridge it, has been something really since she was first elected as a state rep. But this campaign, I think, took it to a whole 'nother level. But it is something she's worked on for years, and I think that's one of the reasons why she's able to get elected in that district is because people see her as somebody who can rise above these things.
MONTAGNE: There's been a lot of talk about Sarah Palin's website that showed Congresswoman Giffords' district in what looks like crosshairs. You know, obviously we do not have any reason to think that this shooter even had an interest in Sarah Palin or was connected to her at all. But Congresswoman Giffords was sufficiently disturbed by that website that she said that this image - and I'm quoting her - could have dangerous consequences.
Mr. GRAYSON: Well, I think that Gabby made a good point. I don't have any reason to believe that this particular tragedy was related to this problem that's out there, but it's out there. And whether it's safety or whether it's just discouraging folks from attending town hall meetings and contacting their representatives and believing that we can come to solutions, I think if we're going to honor Gabby and these other victims, we have to address this problem. You know, there's plenty of blame for everybody to go around here - you know, and I include myself in that. I mean, no, I don't think there's a single elected official or candidate for higher office who has not done or said something that you really wish you hadn't done or said.
MONTAGNE: Well, let me ask you then - your own Senate primary election, you were running against Tea Party candidate Rand Paul. It got pretty unpleasant. You never, nor did he, use violent images. But what do you regret? You say you regret - what do you regret about what you did that in that race?
Mr. GRAYSON: Well, the one thing that I did - it's an ad criticizing a comment he made about Social Security, and really an effort to try to fix the problem, which was to raise the retirement age. We ran an ad criticizing that and didn't offer up a solution of my own. And whenever I got asked about it, I kind of dodged it. I was - you know, I was playing politics. I was being a - kind of, I think, contributing to sort of the cynicism that's out there.
And you know, we really tried to keep ours issues-based in our campaign, but I lost.
MONTAGNE: You lost, but then he - but then, you know, he won in a race where his Democratic opponent attacked him pretty fiercely.
Mr. GRAYSON: And we did have that incident at the end of the campaign - this was in the general election. There was a debate between Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who was the Democratic nominee, and now Senator Rand Paul. There was a woman from MoveOn.org who was trying to get her picture taken with Dr. Paul as he was getting out of the car and kind of made a little bit of a lunge. They pulled her away, but some of the volunteers for Dr. Paul's campaign, one of them actually stomped on her while she was on the ground and subdued.
It was an unfortunate incident. I don't want to blame Dr. Paul for it or anything like that, but it does show that sometimes these things can happen and spill over.
MONTAGNE: Trey Grayson, you have resigned as Kentucky's secretary of state and you're about to go to Harvard University and head its Institute of Politics. Do you think that there will be a change in the way politics and political races are conducted?
Mr. GRAYSON: I suspect there will not be a big change. But if we could have a little change, oftentimes that our country faces critical moments where you see things and we do change as a nation - but, you know, after 9/11 we talked about bringing the country together and we did that for a little bit and then we got divided again. But my hope is that maybe this time will be different, and I'm going to try to do my part to see that it can be.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. GRAYSON: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: Republican Trey Grayson is a friend of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. And at this hour on Capitol Hill, her colleagues in the House are offering remembrances and tributes to Giffords and all the shooting victims.
Later, a bipartisan group of lawmakers will travel on Air Force One with the president to attend tonight's memorial in Tucson.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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