Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) represents a district in southern Arizona adjacent to the one served by Gabby Giffords. Because the city of Tucson straddles the line separating those districts, they work together on common issues, including solar energy, green jobs, and making sure the federal government sends resources to the University of Arizona.
He was in Washington, D.C. this morning when his staff informed him that his colleague had been gunned down.
“The first reaction honestly was It’s overblown, lets wait,” Grijalva said in an interview Saturday evening. He, too, has been the target of political threats and has learned that most of the time those threats are more nerve-wracking than dangerous.
“It became obvious that it was true, and now we’re glad that Gabby appears to be on the road to recovery,” he added. “The loss of Gabe [Zimmerman] in her office who we work with pretty closely and others including a nine year old child is a horrific and saddening episode for everybody.”
Grijalva has been in contact with key principals, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who warned him to take additional precautions. In the wake of today’s attack, he’s re-evaluating how seriously he takes these sorts of threats.
“If I may, Brian, there’s a lesson in this whole horror that we’re going through — it’s about the tone and the tenor of the debate. None of us get into this business thinking that we’re risking life,” he said.
“But there’s a tone of division hatred anger that’s been part of the political dialogue for far too long. This might be an extremist, it might be an isolated case, but the fact that a person feels that an elected official is expendable because of a different set of views is not the American way. I hope there s a lesson people learn about that tone and tenor.”
In July of last year, Grijalva’s Arizona office was shot at, and in October he was sent toxic white powder.
“We dismissed those as part of the life we lead,” Grijalva said. “But in reality this is a wake-up call. This is a wake-up call that we have to be much more careful about how we lead our public lives now. That’s the sad part about it that it could limit our accessibility at a time we should be more accessible not less accessible.”
“There’s probably additional precautions that need to be taken in the wake of this,” he said. Thinking on it further, he added, “we at some point we dismissed that as something we don’t need to worry about. Obviously all that now will have to be reconsidered. What happened today brings that into a whole new perspective. We have to take it much more seriously than we have in the past.”
[Ed. note: This post was updated after publication.]
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.