As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fights for her life following a deranged gunman's shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., her story has grabbed the nation's attention.
The horror of the shooting has dominated discussions, debates and headlines from the moment news of the shooting broke. Giffords went from being known primarily by political wonks and voters within her district to being a household name. But before this weekend, the Blue Dog Democrat made a name for herself as a staunch advocate for renewable energy, among other things.
Inside the Beltway, anyone with an interest in renewable energy knew Gabby Giffords. She gained a reputation through a lengthy track record of making tough votes on a number of environmental issues. Simmons Bunton of Terrain.org described Giffords as, "The U.S.'s strongest elected representative for renewable energy."
In an essay she wrote for the same website, Giffords struck a tone one might expect to hear from a solar-supporting Democrat in a traditionally red state. In speaking about solar power, she emphasized the technology's reliability, but also its value as an opportunity for domestic economic growth. "[People] need to understand that without supportive policy, our nation will fall behind foreign competitors in what is poised to be a major 21st-century industry, just as we have in so many others, such as textiles, automobiles, flat-panel displays and nuclear technology."
Giffords, who is married to astronaut Mark Kelly, is fond of comparing the space race to developing domestic sources of renewable energy. “Creating a new generation of explorers and a new age of American innovation and prosperity while also finding solutions to one of our greatest global problems, is a daunting and yet also a noble goal," she wrote in the Science Coalition.
Giffords goes beyond words about renewable energy. She has been a work horse, especially when it comes to solar. Shortly after taking office, Giffords was among the sponsors of the Energy and Independence and Security Act of 2007. The bill, which President George W. Bush signed into law in December 2007, called for the U.S. "to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers from price gouging, to increase the energy efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government, and for other purposes."
In 2009, Giffords' Solar Technology Roadmap Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives, getting support from 75 percent of the representatives who voted. The bill, which has not been taken up in the Senate, called for the secretary of energy to "conduct a program of research, development, and demonstration for solar technology."
By the time her hard-fought campaign for re-election came around in 2010, Giffords had to defend her positions — including a 2009 vote supporting a cap-and-trade bill in a chaotic environment. The Arizona Range News described the atmosphere of one debate at a high school between Giffords and Tea Party candidate Jesse Kelly as having an "almost theatrical setting one could have found in Europe in the 1800s." During the debate Kelly outlined his opposition to Giffords' environmental focus during her tenure. He said of cap-and-trade, "It's a disaster for the economy ... at best, it's a myth."
Giffords, who is a self-described former Republican, has earned seats on several influential committees since her first election. She sits on the Committee on Armed Services, where she holds spots on two subcommittees. She sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee and on the Committee on Science and Technology, where she holds spots on the Energy and Environment subcommittee as well as the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee.
Despite several factors going against her in recent elections — like home-state hero John McCain topping the ballot in 2008, and the relentless wave of Tea Party support in Arizona — Giffords continued to win re-election. Now the centrist yet environmentally minded Arizonan is fighting for one more win — her life.