Ron Barber made it official last week: He's running as a Democrat in the June 12 special election to complete the term of Gabrielle Giffords in Southern Arizona's Congressional District 8.
"It took me a little while to wrap my head around the idea, but now that I have, I'm going full bore," said Barber, who has resigned from his job as CD 8's district director, a post he'd held since Giffords took office in 2007.
Barber said Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, asked him to get into the race. Shortly after Barber announced his candidacy, Mark Kelly issued a fundraising appeal to help Barber.
Barber was shot twice on Jan. 8, 2011—once in the face, and once in an upper thigh. Doctors nearly had to amputate his left leg, which remains numb below the knee because of nerve damage. He now walks with a cane and has to wear a brace to support his foot.
Barber returned to work six months after the shootings, although his doctors insisted that he limit his schedule to four hours a day.
He said he wouldn't let his physical challenges slow him down on the campaign trail.
"I've checked myself both physically and mentally, and I'm ready to get into this thing 100 percent, with family support," Barber said. "I'm ready to do it."
Barber says he got into the race for a number of reasons.
"I'm really concerned—as most people are—about what's going on Washington, with all the name-calling and bickering and gridlock," Barber said. "I've done what I can over the last year to promote the idea of civility and respect in political discourse, and certainly one of the things I hope I can do in both running and hopefully being elected, and going to Washington, is to bring both that tone and that attitude to what we're trying to do."
Barber said that if elected, he would be able to "prevent any break to the continuity" of the work being done by the current Congressional District 8 staff. He wants to continue the office's work on foreclosure cases, assisting seniors with their government benefits and aiding veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I want to continue to help those people as we've helped them over the last five years," Barber said. "We have to work very hard so that veterans get a fair shake, both in terms of medical services and getting back into the work force."
In the wake of the shootings, he also founded the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which is designed to combat bullying in schools, support programs for the mentally ill and encourage civility in politics.
Barber spent most of his career heading up the state's Southern Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities—a job he quit in order to help Giffords get elected in 2006.
Barber's entry into the race appears to have cleared the Democratic field in the special election, with potential candidates instead setting their sights on the regular election for the new Congressional District 2 later this year.
State Rep. Matt Heinz, the only Democrat who announced a campaign in Congressional District 8, said he'd instead be supporting Barber in the special election.
"I'm going to endorse Ron Barber in the special election and run for Congress in the fall," Heinz said. "I'm going to gather signatures for him, and I hope others will join me."
Democrat Paula Aboud, who was appointed to the state Senate after Giffords stepped down to run for Congress, launched her own campaign for CD 2 this week.
Nan Stockholm Walden, who was considered a likely candidate in both the special election and the race for CD 2 later this year, issued a press release supporting Barber's special-election candidacy.
"Once again, Ron Barber demonstrates his selfless commitment to public service," Walden said in her statement. "In agreeing to run for the ... seat of his former boss in Congressional District 8, Ron will undoubtedly continue Gabby's effective and passionate representation of Southern Arizona in the U.S. Congress. Ron has my husband Dick's and my complete support, and we are willing to do whatever we can to assist him in this endeavor."
State Rep. Steve Farley, who had said he'd run if asked to seek the seat by Giffords, sent out a bulletin to supporters urging them to help Barber collect signatures for his nominating petitions.
"Gabby and Mark are fully on board his campaign for this CD 8 special election, and I am, too," Farley wrote.
Barber said he hadn't yet decided whether he will run for the new Congressional District 2 seat.
"I think it's kind of presumptuous to get out ahead of myself," Barber said. "I've really got to be smart and focus on what's immediately in front of me, and that's what I'm going to do. The decision on whether to run for CD 2 will come in time, but not now."
Meanwhile, five Republicans are set to battle it out in the April 17 GOP primary: 2010 GOP nominee Jesse Kelly, who narrowly lost to Giffords; state Sen. Frank Antenori; businessman and sports broadcaster Dave Sitton; former A-10 Thunderbolt II fighter pilot Martha McSally; and political newcomer John Lervold.