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What next after Giffords resignation?

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Sunday put what was perhaps the largest looming question in Arizona politics to rest with her announcement that she will resign from office in order to continue her recovery from an injury severe enough to make her survival alone seem like a miracle.

To date, Giffords, her husband, Mark Kelly, and her staffers have handling themselves with class since the terrible day of Jan. 8, 2011. The public’s right to know was always respected through their considerable cooperation with media, but the parties never sold out for political or financial gain.

Stepping down was the right thing to do. By doing so, Giffords spared her constituents – and the nation – from fully confronting the uncomfortable reality that she is not the same person with the same abilities that she had before the shooting.

Hopefully, that day will come. But, if it doesn’t, it won’t be for a lack of trying.

Whichever turns out to be the case, Giffords has given (and continues to give) Arizona a lot to be proud of. The woman who was once believed to be slain by a gunman’s bullet has recovered to a remarkable degree through the awesome power of modern medicine – and through the might of the fully tapped human will.

Further, one of our elected officials spent her time in Congress and at home avoiding what has become the shrill, stupid, deceiving and regrettably common tone and tactics of politics. Giffords, Kelly and her staffers have also avoided the temptation – and the political payoff – of blaming the shooting on politics. The facts point to untreated mental illness. Pretending or hinting otherwise is disingenuous, though it happens too often.

With Giffords’ resignation pending, the attention turns to her possible replacements. The likely contenders at this point are three state legislators: Tucson Democrats Paula Aboud and Matt Heinz, and Republican Frank Antenori. More are likely to follow, as open congressional seats are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Giffords and her camp will undoubtedly be asked to offer a valuable endorsement. They should hold out, but if the temptation, desire or pressure is too much, at least back a candidate who is intent on proving that politics doesn’t have to be smash-mouth, mean-spirited and reeking of desperation. That might be a tall order. But, it would be nice to see one competitive race not characterized by silly accusations of Democrats’ desires for communism or Republicans’ intentions to deprive senior citizens of their social security and access to health care.

In other words, the special election to find a new and temporary representative for Arizona’s CD8 could be just that: special.

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