Walz, Giffords colleagues since the beginning

Published 8:24 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

Before returning to their districts last Friday, U.S. Reps. Tim Walz of Minnesota and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona participated in the same steering and policy meeting at the Capitol.

The two started in the U.S. House of Representatives at the same time in 2006, and both representatives attended weekly meetings together since they were freshmen lawmakers.

“We had much in common,” said Walz during a phone interview on Tuesday. “Our political ideologies were very similar, and I admired the way she conducted herself. She was in a competitive district where she listened to her constituents.”

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Walz said he was devastated by news that Giffords was shot Saturday in an alleged rampage that killed six and injured 14 outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket.

“It did not seem real,” Walz said.

Giffords had set up a booth to hear the concerns of constituents, just as Walz and elected officials often do.

While the incident has been marked as a national tragedy, he said it has had a personal effect on him, as well. But he hopes this tragedy will not have a chilling effect on the role of being a representative.

He said Giffords understood that the most important part of being a representative is standing up in front of people who disagree with you and earnestly working to understand why they disagree.

“We can never allow access of constituents to express opinions freely be compromised,” Walz added. “People need to be able to easily access me, whether it’s to agree or to disagree, they need to feel totally comfortable.”

He wants to make sure the passionate town hall meetings that have been held on the health care debate, for example, are never infringed on.

He said he and his staff discuss security and safety considerations yearly for himself, his family, his staff and his constituents — including everything from fire drills to what to do if a suspicious package comes in the mail.