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Political civility institute to open in Ariz.

Associated Press / February 22, 2011

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TUCSON — Two former presidents — one Republican, the other a Democrat — will chair a new national institute to promote civility in political discourse in the city where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was severely wounded in a shooting rampage that left six dead, officials announced yesterday.

The National Institute for Civil Discourse will be run by the University of Arizona. Former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will serve as its honorary cochairmen.

“Our country needs a setting for political debate that is both frank and civil, and the National Institute for Civil Discourse can make a significant contribution toward reaching this goal,’’ Bush said in a prepared statement.

Clinton said the institute “can elevate the tone of dialogue in our country, and in so doing, help us to keep moving toward ‘a more perfect union.’ ’’

Giffords, Democrat of Tucson, was shot in the head during a meet and greet Jan. 8 outside a local grocery store. A federal judge and five others were killed.

While it is widely suspected that Jared Loughner, who faces charges in the shooting, is mentally ill, many have focused on the bitter political climate in which the assault occurred.

Shortly before the rampage, Giffords wrote an e-mail to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, complaining of the incendiary rhetoric in her last campaign, and asking if the group couldn’t do something.

“Well, today the congresswoman’s own hometown university has decided to do just that,’’ said Fred DuVal, vice chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents.

The institute’s goal is to develop programs, stage conferences, design curricula, and encourage research intended to promote civility in politics, said its director, Brint Milward.

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