Wounded congresswoman is friend of Herseth Sandlin'sFormer Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is a close friend of the Arizona congresswoman shot and critically wounded Saturday. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot during a meeting with constituents Saturday in Tuscon, Ariz. Six people were killed and 14 wounded. Giffords remains in critical condition. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been charged in the shooting rampage.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is a close friend of the Arizona congresswoman shot and critically wounded Saturday.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot during a meeting with constituents Saturday in Tuscon, Ariz. Six people were killed and 14 wounded.
Giffords remains in critical condition. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been charged in the shooting rampage.
“It’s awful. It’s really awful,” Herseth Sandlin said in a telephone interview from her home in Brookings. “On so many levels, it’s awful.”
She said she threw a wedding shower for “Gabby” and they discussed balancing family life with a career in politics. Herseth Sandlin has a 2-year-old son and she said Giffords asked her questions about being both a mother and a politician.
Herseth Sandlin said her husband Max Sandlin called to tell her the news Saturday afternoon and she also received calls and messages from friends about the shooting.
She said she sent an e-mail to Giffords Saturday. Herseth Sandlin said she doesn’t know when Giffords will receive the message, but she wanted to reach out to her.
“I wanted her to know my thoughts were with her at the time,” she said.
The former South Dakota congresswoman’s voice broke and she wept as she discussed the shooting. It was “unthinkable,” she said.
The women have much in common. Both are 40, are moderate Democrats and belonged to the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress.
There were only a few women in the 52-member coalition, Herseth Sandlin said, so they became colleagues and their friendship grew.
After some other friends organized a bridal shower for Herseth Sandlin, she put one together for Giffords.
Rep. Kristi Noem, who defeated Herseth Sandlin on Nov. 2, said she was praying for Giffords.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Rep. Giffords, her family and the other victims in Arizona,” said Noem, R-S.D.
“This shocking violence has no place in any civilized society, let alone the home of the greatest democracy in the world,” she said. “The full force of law should be brought upon anyone involved in this senseless act.”
Noem said while she has not met Giffords, she feels a connection to her fellow congresswoman.
“While I have only been a representative a week, there is a sense of community among the members,” she said.
While Giffords had been targeted by conservative activists during the 2010 campaign, both Herseth Sandlin and Noem said they didn’t want to ascribe political links to the shooting.
“We should let the investigation take its course before we make assumptions about any motives,” Noem said. “Law enforcement officials should be applauded for the good work they are doing so far.”
Herseth Sandlin said the investigation was in progress, so it was too early to point fingers.
“We don’t know what the implication will be,” she said. “No one knows what the motive is.”
But Herseth Sandlin said this is a message to everyone — candidates, their staff, the media — to tone down the rhetoric and not raise tensions that could spark an outburst.
“Things have been pretty tense,” she said, noting that “rampant partisanship” has created an unhealthy atmosphere.
Herseth Sandlin said she never felt in danger — “Not like this” — although there were times people approached her or stopped by her offices and “raised flags” by their actions or words.
She said she expects this to be like the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when security was heightened for public officials. Local law enforcement agencies may work closer with congressional members when are in their home states, Herseth Sandlin said.
She took part in a conference call Sunday with about 800 people where they were told details of the shooting and about Giffords’ condition and also given information by the FBI and the House sergeant of arms.
Noem said she will listen to advice on how to maintain safety while still be accessible to South Dakotans.
“My staff and I will look to Capitol Police for their thoughts and suggestions for any new security procedures we should pursue but I will continue to have open and public events,” she said. “It is part of the job as representative.”
Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune expressed their sympathy to Giffords and the other shooting victims.
“Kimberley and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims of this horrific act and their families,” Thune said.
“This kind of violence has no place in our society,” he said. “Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, her Arizona constituents, and their families and loved ones are on our minds and in our hearts at this difficult time.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Giffords, her family and the other victims of this horrific shooting,” Johnson said. “It’s clear that we still have a lot to learn with the details of this situation, and I continue to pray for the safety of all the innocent victims.”