The friendly email Republican Trey Grayson got from Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) last Friday night, congratulating him on a new job, came amid a flood of similar messages. The Kentucky Secretary of State, and erstwhile Senate candidate, recently accepted a position as director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. It was only the next day that Giffords’ message took on a particular significance.“After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation,” Giffords wrote. “I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”
On Saturday, Giffords was shot in the head at an event in Tucson, by a gunman who killed six and wounded 13 others. Giffords miraculously survived, but remains in critical condition. As the national conversation turned to what role, if any, violent political rhetoric played in the shooting, Grayson’s office released Giffords’ email.
“If we could honor Gabby, honor other victims, by having this conversation, and actually doing it, it’s a way to honor them,” Grayson told TPM in a phone interview.
[TPM Slideshow: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords On The Job In Arizona]
Grayson, who said he was “really disturbed by how it immediately became political on both sides” after the shooting, said he and Giffords spoke often about the need for more civil discourse. Friday’s message was just the latest dispatch in a years-long back and forth of texts and emails.
“We want to have good Republicans and want to have good Democrats,” he said, citing the close relationship between the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as an example. “If we would show that a little more publicly, maybe, maybe that would help.”
At Harvard, Grayson said he’s considering organizing a forum to generate ideas for better dialogue.
Grayson and Giffords met in 2005, when they were members of the inaugural class of the Aspen Institute’s Rodel Fellowship. He told TPM he didn’t get a chance to email Giffords back before the shooting. But he said he sent a note on Saturday anyway, to say that he was “thinking of them, praying for them.”