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Vigil for Civility Held as AZ Legislature Begins Session

January 11, 2011

PHOENIX - It was a subdued start Monday for Arizona's 2011 legislative session. Talk of budgets and policy was replaced with expressions of sadness, sympathy, and prayers for the victims of Saturday's Tucson shooting. A vigil was held at the Capitol by the immigrant rights group Border Action Network, calling for a return of humanity and civility to the Arizona Legislature.

Allen says the future of our democratic system of government is at stake if something isn't done to tone down the inflammatory rhetoric.

"We're going to arrive at a point where nobody wants to be a public official, because they are afraid for their personal safety. We're losing touch with the things that make democracy strong."

The weekend's events also threaten the cherished democratic tradition of access to public officials, according to Allen, something Congresswoman Giffords believed in and practiced.

"And it indeed it is one of the things that has made Congresswoman Giffords really unique, as such a dynamic person, willing to just sit down at a Safeway in your neighborhood and just be there and talk with anybody that comes up."

Heated arguments and differing political opinions are a part of democracy, she adds, but that doesn't rule out treating everyone involved with civility, compassion and respect.

Arizona U.S. Senator Jon Kyl dismisses any connection between the shooter and the state's political atmosphere, "We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country."

While agreeing that mental illness and public health need to be addressed, Allen disputes the notion that speech doesn't have consequences. She says Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a victim of what she calls the "air of violence and the violent rhetoric that has dominated politics" in Arizona.

"She's been a target of that violence and that rhetoric. So regardless of the motivations of the shooter, I think we still need to step back and reflect on where we are as a state and where we need to be."

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ