Not afraid to speak her mind, Giffords known as a trailblazer

Image: U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords is seen with her husband Mark Kelly in an undated handout photo
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was born and raised in Tucson, Ariz., has established herself as tough on immigration during her political career.HO / Reuters
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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and seriously wounded Saturday at a meeting with constituents, is not your typical congressional Democrat. The former Republican businesswoman is an avid motorcycle rider, a proud gun owner and is married to an astronaut.

Giffords, who was among the victims shot Saturday during a meeting with her constituents outside a Tucson grocery store, was re-elected to her third term in November. In 2006, she became Arizona's first Jewish representative.

"If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it," Giffords said during her campaign.

The threat of violence is not new to Giffords: Just hours after legislators — including Giffords — voted to approve Obama's controversial health care bill in March 2009, the front door of her Tuscon office was vandalized.

Last August, a man dropped a gun at a town hall-style event she was holding at a Safeway supermarket. And in 2010, she was among at least 10 Democrats who expressed concern for their safety after receiving anonymous threats for supporting the health reform bill.

The 40-year-old congresswoman's career didn't start in politics: She served as president and CEO of El Campo Tire, a family-run Tuscon tire and auto business.

She sold the business to Goodyear in 1999 and was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives a year later. Despite having switched by then to Arizona's Democratic Party, Giffords established herself as a fiscally conservative, pro-business centrist.

In 2002, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona Senate.

Giffords is the only member of Congress with an active-duty military spouse, according to . She married Cmdr. Mark E. Kelly, a NASA astronaut and Navy pilot from New Jersey, in 2007. In his toast to the couple after the ceremony, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, "To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds 17,000 miles per hour."

A 'rising power player'
Reich, one of Giffords' mentors, has also said that he "wouldn't be surprised if she's the first or second female president of the United States."

Giffords' influence on immigration issues after the 2010 elections earned her a spot on the political Web site Real Clear Politics' "Top Ten Rising Power Players in the U.S. Congress."

She hasn't been shy in expressing her disappointment in the U.S. immigration system, which she's described as "broken." After her own state passed a tough anti-immigration law last year, Giffords criticized the measure as too weak to secure the border or stop drug smuggling.

"Arizona is now known around the world for enacting an extreme immigration law in response to the federal government's failure to act,"  she said.

Giffords also is an advocate for renewable energy, which she managed to combine with one of her other interests in a January 2010 tweet: "A solar motorcycle?! Wow! Can't wait to take it for a spin." On her campaign Web page, Giffords, a member of the Congressional Motorcycle Caucus, says she wants to some day ride her motorcycle to Argentina.

She is a member of the "Blue Dog" coalition of Democrats who push for conservative budget and tax policies and has served on the House's Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology committees. She's also a vocal supporter of the military and military families. Giffords and her husband have no children.