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Only one vote will count

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2011 9:00 am

Sometime next year, Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic congresswoman from Tucson seriously wounded by gunshot in January, will reveal whether she will run for re-election.

Her decision will be difficult, as the injuries to her brain have meant a slow and difficult recovery. And results of a statewide poll that were reported by Capitol Media Services in Friday's Tribune say only 32 percent of Arizonans favor her seeking a second term. Forty-six percent said they were opposed.

This was a statewide poll, not merely one of voters in Giffords' southern Arizona congressional district. So we don't know what the voters who actually would have to consider her candidacy believe.

We can only guess why poll respondents replied the way they did. People may equate what they see and hear with reality. But seeing and hearing don't always form the basis for credible belief. Sights and sounds don't always depict the full truth.

Millions watched Diane Sawyer's Nov. 14 prime-time interview on ABC with Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

I watched it. In it, Giffords spoke haltingly and with few, if any, complete sentences. I also listened to an audio recording, released the following morning, of Giffords slowly addressing her constituents - in short sentences. She said she missed Arizona and her work in Congress, and that she wants to be back.

Behind what we can record with cameras and microphones is what is actually inside Giffords' healing brain.

Sawyer's report quoted a leading specialist in brain injuries involved in Giffords' recovery who said she believes that Giffords is able to think, understand and retain information. What was damaged by the shot fired by her attacker, the expert said, was the ability to get that information from her thoughts into spoken words.

Giffords appeared briefly on the floor of the House of Representatives this fall to vote on the debt ceiling compromise, proving that she knows how to vote and on what. She still has a distance to travel to recovery, but how long that distance is may only be known to her.

History is full of examples of those who overcame disabilities to serve ably in public life.

Last year's Best Picture Oscar winner was "The King's Speech," a retelling of the story of King George VI of the United Kingdom. Behind the king's profound stuttering, which even he had once believed to be incurable, was the intelligent mind of a bright and caring monarch who had the courage and tenacity to overcome his serious impediment.

History is also full of examples of leaders who knew that when it came to controversial decisions, the buck stopped with them and no one else.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln asked his Cabinet whether he should release his Emancipation Proclamation to the nation. Every one of them voted no. Lincoln's famous summary of the vote was, "The ayes have it." And the proclamation was made.

It is common knowledge that in merely being alive Giffords has defied tremendous odds, and that she can walk, even with difficulty, or speak, even with difficulty, also defies nearly equally long odds. It would be difficult to say with certainty at this point that she will be unable to continue to recover.

Petition signatures must be filed by next May. To run for re-election is Gabrielle Giffords' decision alone. It isn't her friends' or family's, her political allies' or foes', the respondents to public opinion polls' or even her district's voters'. If she does run, those voters from her 8th Congressional District will have the opportunity to evaluate her fitness to continue to hold office.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp's (mscarp1@cox.net) opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at evtnow.com/scarp.

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