Arizonans in the state's 8th Congressional District have a new congressman-elect today: Ron Barber. The former district director for Gabrielle Giffords won the special election to fill the seat left open by Giffords' retirement this winter.
Barber made his campaign a referendum on his views as compared to his opponent's, hitting Republican Jesse Kelly hard on entitlement issues, particularly on privatizing Social Security. His candidacy was viewed in large part through the prism of his former boss; he was Giffords' choice to replace her, and she was the strongest ally he could have in the more Republican-leaning district.
An Arizona resident for most of his life, the former small-business owner, 66, has two daughters and four grandchildren. He and wife Nancy owned and operated a business called Toy Traders-Stork's Nest Inc. for 22 years, according to his campaign website.
Barber also worked for 30 years as a director for the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, an arm of the Arizona Department of Economic Securities that helps "eligible individuals with developmental disabilities achieve self-sufficiency and independence," according to its webpage. The son of a U.S. airman, Barber was born oversees, in West Yorkshire, England. He went to high school and college in Tucson, attending the University of Arizona and married his high school sweetheart.
Barber was named Giffords' district director in 2007, shortly after she was elected to Congress for her first term, and he was with her Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire at a "Congress On Your Corner" event at a grocery store near Tucson, killing six and injuring Giffords, and 12 others, including Barber. He was shot in the leg and the cheek and still walks with a cane sometimes.
But Barber made an effort during his campaign to paint himself as a candidate in his own right, not simply as Giffords' successor.
"I think it's important to clarify, people have said to me, 'We're so glad you're running for Gabby's seat.' This is not Gabby's seat. This is not Ron Barber's seat. This is the people's seat," he said in an interview on MSNBC during the final days of the campaign.
Barber laid out a series of stances and policy pledges during his campaign. He has pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare, advocates adding more Border Patrol agents, as well as increasing the use of technologies such as Mobile Surveillance Systems to the Arizona-Mexico border. He says he will push for an expansion of solar, bioscience and high-tech industries, three areas with good potential for high-paying jobs in his district.
Throughout the course of the campaign, Republicans tried to brand Barber as a rubber stamp for President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The tactic was logical, given the political demographics of the region. The district went red in the presidential elections in 2008 and 2004, as well as in the state's gubernatorial election in 2010. But with no political background to speak of, it was, and continues to be, hard to tie Barber down to any particular agenda.
Although he has a lot of experience working in politics, there is little known about how Barber will actually vote during his time in Congress because he has no voting record of his own. As a staffer for Giffords, his work was ultimately reflective of her policies.
He will now be free to pursue his own agenda.