Congress, Gabby Giffords and Changing the World.
In 2009 I was working on Capitol Hill as a House Leadership staffer. It was our job to help Members however we could, from voting recommendations to communications advice and even resumes for potential staff. As anyone who has worked on Capitol Hill will tell you, there is a big difference between the staff and the Members. You can only get so close to the Members. In the end it is their name on the ballot, not yours. Having said that I have had the privilege get to know a handful of Members. One of the Members I was lucky enough to form a friendship with was Gabby Giffords. She grabbed me one afternoon and told me she was looking to replace a member of her team who had taken a new opportunity. I asked her what she was looking for, fully expecting her to say something like “someone who knows health care” or “they need to be from Arizona”. Her answer was nothing short of stunning and something I will never forget. She looked me in the eyes and simply said “I am looking for someone who wants to change the world.”
Many people now know of Gabby after her tragic shooting in Tucson in 2011 and her amazing recovery. But I want to take you back to the Congresswoman that I knew before the that terrible day. At the time of this conversation in 2009 Gabby was a beautifully brilliant woman in her 30s who had already been the CEO of her family tire business and elected to the Arizona State House. She ran for Congress in a competitive district, worked hard and was reelected twice. She rode horses, married an astronaut and was a superstar in the Democratic Party. To say that I admire her would be a major understatement. For most folks the idea of “changing the world” is a throw away line but for Gabby it was a genuine tangible thought. It was why she ran for Congress. It is why she crossed party lines quite a bit. It was why she boarded all those long flights from Tucson. It is how she tackled every day on the Hill. She was a woman on a mission to change the world.
(It should also be pointed out that Gabby is still trying to change the world!)
So Gabby rules but what’s the point? Today the common refrain from the halls of Congress when it comes to almost any issue is “that will have to wait until after the election”. Changing the world will have to wait until we finish playing this never ending game of political musical chairs. Gabby is a spectacular person but I also know that there are many Members of Congress from both parties who want to make a difference. These Members want to tackle important issues. They want to do the right thing but their voices are being drowned out by the call for political expediency.
As I write this Congress is just back from a summer long break of Conventions and campaigning. They will likely pass a short term spending bill to avoid a government shut down and then run to the airports until “after the Election”. This bare minimum approach has been a pattern for the past few years. As a result the country is running into serious problems. We need to fix our broken and outdated immigration system. We need to deal with mounting debt and simplify our tax code. We need to find a way to fix our crumbling infrastructure so we can avoid websites like this. We need to have a serious discussion about tough issues involving race, law enforcement and guns. When the political music stops, problems will still be there. These are not Republican issues or Democratic issues they are American issues. There are no “right” answers but we can’t possibly fix these problems without trying.
( I guess now is the a good time for the disclaimers: I am a husband, a father and a Democrat. I am also a registered lobbyist who knows that we are certainly a part of the problem! )
I share this little story about Gabby as we round the corner toward Election Day hoping it helps to focus the minds of voters and empower our leaders on Capitol Hill. It is my hope that the truly American idea that “we can do anything we put our minds” to finally trumps a date on a calendar. To put a finer point on it: we need a functioning government. We need a battle of ideas. We need all those Members of Congress that think like Gabby Giffords to have the courage to speak up.
Hopefully, after this election in November, Congress will take the first step in changing the world ……by showing up and giving it a try.