Riding high from her victory in the election, Gov. Jan Brewer was expected to lay out an ambitious policy agenda to start her first full term as governor. But in the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson, Brewer deferred on her annual address to call for prayer and mourning for the victims of the mass shooting that targeted U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Brewer, who was practicing her State of the State in the House of Representatives when news of the shooting broke, said she had intended to speak about job creation, tax reform and education. But in light of the shooting, which killed six and critically wounded a dozen others, including Giffords, Brewer said the first response must be led by prayer and comfort for the victims and their families.
Brewer, who traditionally has worn white outfits for major public appearances, including last year’s State of the State address, instead was dressed today in a black pantsuit as she somberly recalled the sunny day that turned tragic by a gunman.
“Tragedy and terror sometimes come from the shadows and steal our joy and take away our peace. That happened on Saturday when a gunman took away people we love, innocent people and outstanding public servants,” Brewer told the packed House chamber on Jan. 10. “So, I ask for your help and your continued prayers as we step from here and guide this great state with courage and conviction.”
Brewer harkened back to the call for public service she made in last year’s State of the State speech and said Giffords, “my good friend,” answered that call.
“I said then that public service is acting not in self interest, but on behalf of others. And I asked people to join me in the field,” Brewer said. “Gabby Giffords did join me in the field.”
She also spoke of the others who were wounded and killed in the Jan. 8 attack at a Tucson grocery store, including U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christina Green.
She also extended her gratitude to the emergency workers, hospital personnel and others who aided the victims, especially Daniel Hernandez. The University of Arizona student, an intern at Giffords’ district office, helped keep the congresswoman alive after the gunman shot her in the head, and is widely credited with saving her life.
After Brewer asked Hernandez to rise for recognition, the crowd of legislators and other dignitaries greeted him with a standing ovation.
“Daniel Hernandez…showed no fear in the face of gunfire,” the governor said.
The governor called the shooting “an assault on our constitutional republic, on our democracy,” and vowed that the attack should unite the state in a desire to move forward in the face of tragedy. She ended her speech on a tone of defiance, determined not to falter in the face of tragedy and vowing that “our meetings on sunny days will not end.”
“Our grief is profound. We are yet in the first hours of sorrow. But we have not been brought down. We will never be brought down,” said Brewer, whose declaration was met with a standing ovation.
Grief and mourning marked the entire opening day of the 2011 legislative session. Democrats, many of whom saw friends and loved ones struck down in the attack, were grateful for the governor’s words.
“I thought it was gracious of her to make that decision to defer her comments as far as the State of the State goes and to instead deliver the comments that she did,” said Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, a Democrat from Tempe.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief throughout a post-speech press conference by Democratic lawmakers, called Brewer’s speech “kind and appropriate.”
“If there’s any day that we need to rise above partisanship and just focus on those who were victimized, today’s the day. I’m glad to see that she did that, and I thought she did it well. I was grateful for that,” the Phoenix Democrat said.
Likewise, Republican leaders said they hoped the tragic events would be a turning point in Arizona politics and would remind lawmakers of both parties that philosophical differences would be viewed in a different context than in the past.
“To some degree, things have changed permanently,” said House Speaker Kirk Adams. “I hope all of us elected officials and citizens of Arizona can come together and overcome challenges.”
The shooting touched off a nationwide debate over the oftentimes harsh and inflammatory rhetoric that defined the campaign season, and prompted many to call for respect and civility in the volatile partisan arena.
At the Democrats’ press conference, Rep. Steve Farley, a Tucson Democrat who rushed to University Medical Center after Giffords was shot, called Brewer’s speech – as well as comments from his Republican colleagues in the Legislature – a sign that both sides of the aisle were united in the desire to shun the “hateful or hurtful” rhetoric that has become commonplace.
“We have crossed a threshold, a threshold into a new day of politics in which we do not trash one another on either side, where we work together, where we follow in Gabby’s model for how you work with people you don’t necessarily agree with,” Farley said. “I believe that they will be partners in this goal.”