'Congress on Your Corner' events began after Democratic victories in 2006
On Saturday morning, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) did something she had done dozens of times before: hosted a "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson. It ended a few minutes after it started in a shooting rampage that killed six and wounded 14, including Giffords.
These street corner events were born four years ago after the 2006 midterm elections swept Democrats into the majority for the first time in 12 years. They were the brainchild of then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who had recruited Giffords to run, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), at the time the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
With more than 40 Democratic newcomers to the House, the leadership wanted these freshmen to stay in tune with the voters in their districts and suggested they just set up a table outside shopping markets and libraries on weekends, spending several hours letting voters approach them to discuss whatever was on their mind.
"It lets people know you're available," Van Hollen explained Sunday.
The Democratic class of 2008, which included several dozen more freshmen after a second huge victory for House Democrats, was also encouraged to host these events.
One Democratic aide estimated that, over the last four years, there had "easily" been hundreds of these "Corner" events over the last four years, if not thousands.
Giffords' staff estimated that she has held about 20 such events a year across a district that spans 9,000 square miles, in addition to dozens of town halls every year that tend to be specific to certain issues in specific regions.
Giffords had faced some incidents of violence involving constituent meetings in the past -- someone left a gun at a town hall and last March, after she supported the health-care overhaul, and a brick was thrown through the window of her Tucson office -- but never at one of the "Congress on Your Corner" events.
Saturday's event was typical, until the shooting: Giffords and a few staffers set up behind a table outside a supermarket with a banner letting shoppers know she was there, fielding any questions. There was advance billing in the neighborhood and, as the event started, Giffords sent out a note via her Twitter account to let people know that her first meeting of the year had started.
"My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later," she wrote.
Despite the shooting, lawmakers in both parties suggested Sunday that they would continue to hold public meetings, even the wide-ranging "Congress on Your Corner" events, while they try to also be more aware of their surroundings and any security threats.
"Nobody wants to be a walled-off fortress. Everybody's very determined to continue to be out and about with our constituents. That's a critical part of the job," Van Hollen said.
"I'll continue to do what I've been doing. I've been doing this for 30 years and never had any concerns," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)
| January 9, 2011; 6:03 PM ET
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