Arizona's Giffords Prepares to Serve in House

Melissa Block talks with Gabrielle Giffords, representative-elect from Arizona's 8th district. She's a Democrat elected in a conservative-leaning district; Giffords ran as a moderate. At 36, she will be one of the youngest House members on Capitol Hill.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Here in Washington, D.C., office logistics and ethics were on today's orientation schedule for more than 50 incoming House freshman. Among those new faces is Gabrielle Giffords, the Democratic congresswoman elect from the eighth district of Arizona.

At 36, she's one of the youngest members of the freshman class. She served in the Arizona legislature for six years and she ran her family's tire and automotive business. Her wow moment this week in Washington -

Representative GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (Democrat, Arizona): Probably when we first had a candlelight tour of the capitol our first evening. To think that only 109 groups of men and women have come before this class. And when you think about the fact that we have representative democracy, you see that in this freshman class. We have a farmer, ranchers. We have an attorney, a doctor, I think a mortician. Myself, a tire dealer, so you really see a cross section of America, and I really believe that we're bringing with us the best intentions of the American people.

But just having a chance to walk the halls of Congress, to understand and reflect on the history of the men and women that have come before us is a little overwhelming and I'm just excited about just rolling up my sleeves and getting to work now.

BLOCK: If you were to pick, say, two issues that were the most important -dearest to your heart, what would they be?

Representative GIFFORDS: Well, certainly, immigration is critical to my district. I represent one of ten U.S./Mexico border districts and the federal government has essentially failed the people of Arizona. We have over twice the number of illegal entrants of California, Texas and New Mexico combined. Yet the federal government has not reimbursed Arizona for the costs of healthcare, for the cost of our schools, for the costs of the first responders and law enforcement. It's really critical that we have a comprehensive immigration reform.

And secondly, ending our dependence on foreign oil for two reasons. Right now, our energy policies are incredibly dangerous in terms of our dependency on unstable Middle Eastern regimes, these countries that really do not have our best interest in mind.

Secondly, global warming is affecting us. And our energy policies, I believe, are potentially disastrous for us in terms of climate change. So changing our policies, reinvesting money into renewable energy's really going to be critical, particularly in a district like mine that is 350 days of sunshine every year. Every single new house constructed should have solar panels on the roofs.

BLOCK: You mentioned immigration and there are a number of factors in immigration reform that have fractured people. Would you, for example, support a guest worker program? Would that be part of your vision for immigration reform?

Representative GIFFORDS: Absolutely. I see immigration reform in three parts. First and foremost, high tech security. Building a wall across the entire expanse of the U.S./Mexico and the U.S./Canadian border is not going to solve the problems. We need use of radar, drones, electronic surveillance.

Secondly, getting tough on employers who are knowingly hiring people here illegally. And the third component is a viable guest worker program. In Arizona, the leading economies are construction, tourism and also agriculture, to a certain degree. Well, when you think about the fact that we do not have people filling these jobs right now, having the chance for people to come and work legally, safely, and return home is absolutely critical to our economy.

BLOCK: Do you think that your ideas about border security, protecting the borders, are in line with the Democratic leadership?

Representative GIFFORDS: That's a very good question. I believe the Democratic leadership is going to look to southern Arizona, look to myself and Representative Raul Grijalva, also the new member, Harry Mitchell, who defeated JD Hayworth, obviously a strong proponent of security, (unintelligible) enforcement only, and that leadership's going to work with us on crafting solutions.

BLOCK: We were talking when you first came in about the fact that it's a two year term. And in some sense, you take a deep breath and maybe you celebrate for a night and then you start thinking about the next election.

Representative GIFFORDS: And it hasn't - well, it's been a week now. So I took a little time off, went to the Rolling Stones concert Wednesday night and flew out here Sunday morning for the new member orientation. I'll be here through the end of the week.

But frankly, it really disturbs me to see people that only look at their reelection. If I can't do a good job representing the people, then I shouldn't return. I mean, that's really what every two years is about, is a chance for the people to come forward and say this person is doing a good job - not doing a good job. And these are our values and this is our vision for our country. And I'm just really honored to be apart of that.

BLOCK: Gabrielle Giffords is a Democrat. She's newly elected to Congress from the eigth congressional district of Arizona.

Thanks for coming in.

Representative GIFFORDS: Thanks for having me.

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