In the Wake of the Giffords Shooting, Civility and Self-Reflection Should Be Our Guide

By Tracy Dingmann

U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords tweeted the news Saturday to her constituents far and wide:

“My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

And why wouldn’t she let everyone know? The third-term congresswoman from the 8th District of Arizona flew back from D.C. nearly every weekend and was proud of her strong record of constituent service. Colleagues say the 40-year-old Congresswoman was driven by noblest aspects of the American democratic ideal.

In March of 2010, when Giffords’ office door was smashed in the wake of a contentious partisan debate over health care reform, she told MSNBC:

“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts — of violence in certain cases, and the yelling, and it’s just … you know, change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.”

But what happened instead of “Congress on Your Corner” last Saturday was an American nightmare.

Outside Gongresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office on Jan. 11, 2010. Image courtesy Meredith Shiner, POLITICO.com

In a premeditated attack, a madman shot Giffords in the head and fired on the crowd.  A congressional staffer who worked for Giffords was killed, along with a child, a federal judge, and three senior citizens, all of whom were exercising their democratic right to talk to their congresswoman. Fourteen others, including Gifford, remain seriously or gravely wounded.

As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Huevel wrote so movingly in “The Arizona Horror:”

This was an assassination of democracy, an armed assault on citizens gathered to exercise the most precious of American rights—the right to free speech and assembly. Rep. Giffords was doing the essential work of politics, meeting with her neighbors and constituents outside of a grocery store in a “Congress on Your Corner” gathering. This small “d” democratic act is so central to our Constitution and our republic that its protection is enshrined in the First Amendment, the same amendment that Giffords read aloud on the opening day of Congress.

Nothing is more corrosive to democracy than the use of violence to terrorize the public square, to shut down speech, to slay those seeking its exercise.

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Line Dance: Nonprofits, Campaigns and the Rio Grande Foundation

There’s a peculiar sidebar to the legal battle that has pitted Attorney General Gary King against New Mexico’s nonprofit organizations.  You know, that’s the one in which U.S. Tenth Circuit Court recently ruled in favor of two of the nonprofits – the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) .

In a recent Albuquerque Journal op ed, Sara Berger, the attorney for the two nonprofits, explained the outcome of the case:

The Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling was a decisive and unambiguous decision — one that affirms the right of free speech for all nonprofits.

For the two groups involved in the lawsuit, the Tenth Circuit’s decision was a total vindication — and a firm rebuke to critics who publicly doubted any nonprofit organizations’ right to hold public officials accountable and to advocate for those they serve.

What constitutes political campaign intervention?

Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net also devoted an in-depth piece to the facts and issues in the 10th Circuit’s decision. In addition, he examined the specific activities that had prompted the allegations against SWOP and NMYO, and contrasted these to what another New Mexico nonprofit, the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), has been doing.

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Suck on this New Mexico, it’s Dick Morris of Citizens United on the phone!

“Please stay on the line for an important message from Dick Morris of Citizens United.”

That’s just part of what an untold number of New Mexicans heard in a campaign phone blitz this week.

By all accounts, the call was slickly produced and deployed.

The caller would ask for a specific person in the household. Let’s call her Mrs. Wellington. Once it was confirmed that Mrs. Wellington was indeed on the line, the caller would introduce himself:

“Hello, I’m Gil from Citizens United.”

Oh yes, this is the same Citizens United that won a recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision — Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission — which struck down much of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 law along with overturning Teddy Roosevelt era bans on corporate campaign contributions. By conferring on corporations the same rights as an individual (corporate personhood), the decision now allows them to open up their treasuries and completely buy up all television time, thus potentially drowning out drown out everyone else’s voices in political campaigns.

But let’s get to Gil on the phone with Mrs. Wellington. After a brief riff on how President Obama has “taken your health care away from you,” Gil asked Mrs. Wellington to stay on the line to hear an important message from “Dick Morris of Citizens United.”

Then a recording of the Fox News pollster/guru and noted toe sucking fetishist, Dick Morris, commenced.

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First Amendment still stands in NM, despite AG appeal

The Center for Civic Policy is disappointed that New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has chosen to appeal the recent decision by United States District Court Judge Judith Herrera in favor of New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).

“It’s unfortunate Attorney General Gary King – the top attorney in the state – refuses to acknowledge that the First Amendment applies the same in New Mexico as it does in the other forty-nine states,” said Matt Brix, policy director for the Center for Civic Policy – which sponsors NMYO. “Attorney General King’s actions spell trouble for all New Mexicans who care about free speech.”

King’s decision will needlessly cost the taxpayers of New Mexico, said George Lujan, communications director for SWOP.

“The Attorney General’s actions also spell trouble for all New Mexico taxpayers who are concerned about the waste of literally hundreds of thousands of additional dollars on irresponsible and pointless litigation,” said Lujan.

In her decision two weeks ago, Judge Herrera carefully explained why criticism of elected officials is not something that government can regulate, except in the narrow circumstance when the criticism occurs near an election and is accompanied by a plea to vote for or against a candidate.

It is dismaying that Attorney General King has chosen to ignore Judge Herrera’s decisive ruling on First Amendment rights and will instead subject taxpayers to more expensive and unnecessary litigation.