January 10, 2011 | 10:00am
I was standing at the border "fence" down in Palominas last spring chatting with John Ladd Jr., an articulate and outspoken cattle rancher with no love for the federal government, Barack Obama, or anything with the phrase "illegal immigrant" attached to it.
I was reporting this story
, "Badlands," which took an long look at the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Arizona.
The story was published on June 1, in the aftermath of the (still-unsolved) murder of Douglas-area rancher Rob Krentz, about whom I also wrote in this piece
, "Cowboy Down."
Ladd was railing against our nation's immigration "policy," such as it is and has been, when the subject of the then-upcoming elections arose.
He brought up the pending 8th District Congressional race between incumbent Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and a strong Republican challenger (turned out to be Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly).
For all the anger that Ladd was expressing about "Obamacare," illegal aliens, (former Arizona Governor and current federal Homeland Security head) Janet Napolitano, he couldn't bring himself to say anything bad about "Gabby," as he called her.
From my interview: "She is a tremendous person, very responsive to us, a great gal. I don't agree with a whole lot of what she has to say, but she's down here all the time and she listens to us hard -- you can't fake that. She is special. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get into that voting booth."
A few days later, I decided on a whim to call Giffords headquarters to tell her people about my conversation with Ladd, thinking maybe that an interview with the congresswoman herself might be in order.
I ended up chatting with a nice young man named Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Giffords.
I told him that, from where I sat, if his boss had the seemingly unlikely chance of winning John Ladd's vote in November, she might not get swept out of office in what then was smelling like a big-time Republican sweep at the polls.
Zimmerman laughed, and told me not to underestimate the congresswoman, and said that even though Giffords was a top-tier target of Republicans (target may not be an apt word), he was confident she would prevail at the end of the day.
I told him that all political aides say that kind of thing -- it's in their DNA -- to which he laughed again and said, "You don't know this woman."
Zimmerman spoke fondly about Cochise County and of the John Ladds of the world -- salt-of-the-earth gentlemen with bona fide day-to-day concerns about his family, land, and livelihood.
It was a pleasant 10 minutes, and finished with Zimmerman asking me if I wanted to spend some time with Congresswoman Giffords for my story.
"That's OK," I told him. "I'm kind of keeping politicians out of this one. But I really would like to meet her down the road."
Giffords ended up beating Kelly by about 4,000 votes in what was a vicious dogfight of a campaign.
Gabe Zimmerman, as most everyone knows by now, died in the Tucson Massacre, by the side of the woman for whom he obviously had so much respect, so much love.
He was 30.