Newly elected Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, was surrounded by extended family Tuesday as he was sworn in to finish out the term of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned in January.
Barber invoked Giffords, his former boss, as well as Arizona political icons Mo Udall and Barry Goldwater in making an appeal for bipartisanship in his first House speech shortly after taking the oath of office.
“Congressman Mo Udall and Senator Barry Goldwater … disagreed on much, but did so without being disagreeable,” Barber said. “They came together many times to do what was right for their state and their country.”
As if to illustrate the point, Barber sided with Republicans in his first vote in Congress, voting for a bill that would relax environmental regulations on border patrol agencies with 100 miles of the border. On his second vote, he joined 74 Democrats in a failed effort to reject a bill that would block a Tohono O’odham casino near Glendale.
Barber beat Republican Jesse Kelly in a special election last week by a surprisingly large margin in a district that leans Republican, getting more than 52 percent of the vote and winning by more than 14,000 votes.
He will finish the term of Giffords, who resigned this January to focus on her recovery from injuries she received a year earlier in an attack outside a Tucson grocery that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords and Barber.
“Five months ago my friend and my predecessor, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, bravely delivered her resignation from Congress,” Barber said on the House floor. “I want to thank the congresswoman for her vision, leadership and the inspiration she gives the country.”
Barber said he would strive for civility in his work and put what is right for all ahead of partisan victory.
He spoke about protecting the middle class, retired seniors and “the more than 100,000 veterans” in his district. He mentioned securing the border and creating jobs through innovation and support of small business, before returning to his theme of crossing party lines for the good of all.
The stakes “are too high not to set aside political division in favor of seeking common ground,” Barber said.
He has been assigned the same office Giffords occupied after winning her third congressional term in 2010. He has filed to run for re-election after this term, which expires in January.
Earlier in the day, he was joined by his wife, their daughters and a huge extended family of sons-in-law, cousins and grandchildren for his swearing-in by House Speaker John Boehner in the House chamber. They were joined in the House well by Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor, fellow Democrats, and Republican Jeff Flake.
Barber briefly had the wrong hand on the Bible used for the ceremonial swearing-in, until Boehner reminded him that the left hand goes on the Bible.
Barber and his extended family later posed for pictures in a ceremonial room off the House chamber with Boehner. Barber beamed as his family – including grandson Elliot Blake, who hammed it up for the cameras – stood like a wedding party beside him.
Barber swearing-in filled one of three vacancies in the House.