Ward hopes congressman’s shooting sparks reflection
BULLHEAD CITY — James T. Hodgkinson is responsible for the actions he took Wednesday in shooting U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and three others, former state Sen. Kelli Ward said Thursday.
However, she said, the possibility is there that his rage may have been fueled by harsh online rhetoric. The shooter’s social media posts contained political rants critical of Republicans and calling President Donald Trump a “traitor” and stating that “it’s time to destroy Trump & Co.”
“Obviously, it was a despicable thing to do,” Ward said, “To target our lawmakers. I’m glad that none of (those) innocent people lost their lives. I am praying for (Majority) Whip Scalise and hopeful that he will make a full recovery.”
Hodgkinson was shot dead by Capitol Police.
Ward, a Lake Havasu City Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, acknowledged harsh partisan rhetoric coming from “both sides,” but was particularly critical of some on the political left.
“The Resist movement has moved from words to violence,” she said.
Social media, she said, gives people “freedom to let things inside themselves out — people are willing to say things they would never say to someone’s face, and bringing that into the real-life world creates dangerous situations.”
But the words, no matter how incendiary, she said, don’t let Hodgkinson or anyone else propelled to action by them, off the hook.
“I believe wholeheartedly in personal responsibility,” Ward said. “While outside influences can lead people (toward certain behaviors), we as people have the ultimate responsibility for our actions. This man chose a bad act yesterday — he chose to express his political dissatisfaction in a criminal way.”
Ward said that she hopes the shooting will bring the point home for spreaders of virulent rhetoric to an understanding of the effect words can have.
“Hopefully, people will choose words wisely,” she said, and encourage others toward “political action, rather than violent action.”
“We have maintained a stable government over hundreds of years because we solve our problems at the ballot box,” Ward said. “With ballots, not bullets.”
Ward, who was elected to the Arizona Senate in 2012 and left in 2015 to challenge U.S. Sen. John McCain, was asked if the shooting has led her to consider her own safety.
“I’ve always been pretty vigilant about my own safety, when legal by being armed and surrounding myself with people who utilize their Second Amendment rights,” she said, the latter a reference to security staff. “I would like to be a little more self-defense savvy without a gun.”
Ward said that may include taking a self-defense class with young women on her staff.
She made no distinction between Wednesday’s shooting and the 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat. Giffords was critically wounded in a shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others during a public meet-and-greet with constituents at a supermarket near Tucson.
“There can be parallels,” Ward said. “It’s a politically motivated shooting of an elected official.”
Officials will have to be vigilant now, she said, and somehow still be able to serve their constituents.
“I don’t want to see this used to create a wider gulf between elected officials and the people. I don’t want to see a knee-jerk reaction in response to a tragic event.”
Ward mentioned liberty as one of the key benefits of living in the U.S. and said she hopes that the shooting doesn’t result in attempts to restrict the liberty of elected officials or of the public.
She also praised U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, the Republican she hopes to replace in the 2018 election. Flake told reporters that he took Scalise’s phone and called Scalise’s wife, sparing her from hearing about the incident through media.
“I’m not running against good Samaritan Flake,” Ward said. “I’m running against bad-senator Flake. I’m glad he’s alive and was there (to assist Scalise).”
The GOP establishment is worried, she said, not that Democrats will take over, but “because they think conservatives are going to come together and have a voice and show that the people want something different than what the professional politicians in Washington, D.C., want.”
One goal she said she has is for people to connect personally, rather than just electronically.
“We’ll have a better society,” she said.