Kirkpatrick returns to Capitol after taking leave for alcohol treatment

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, in a 2016 file photo. She returned to Congress this week after a six-week leave to get treatment for alcohol dependence, saying she is “stronger than I was one month ago.” (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick returned to Congress Wednesday and pledged to be back on the campaign trail Saturday after a self-imposed six-week leave of absence to get treatment for alcohol dependence.

The Tucson Democrat, who was already back in a House Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday, said in a statement that she is grateful to be back and is “focused on getting back to work and being stronger than I was one month ago.”

But she added that her treatment taught her to “take it one day at a time” for what will be a lifelong challenge.

Arizona lawmakers Wednesday were quick to welcome her back.

“We need her here, Arizona needs her here,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who had not had a chance to speak Kirkpatrick on Wednesday.

“I’m happy for her and her family and we’re all here to support her,” said Grijalva, adding that “at the end of the day she’ll be stronger.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, welcomed Kirkpatrick’s return and said he hopes “she is able to overcome her challenges that she had.”

Kirkpatrick suffered a severe fall in January and it was while being treated for it that she realized she needed treatment for “the underlying cause of my fall. Beginning next week, I will receive treatment that I have struggled to ask for, to treat my alcohol dependence.”

She announced on Jan. 15 that she would take a leave of absence from Congress, saying it was important to seek treatment in order to fulfill her role as a wife, grandmother and “the most important job – representing my fellow Arizonans.”

She did not release details of her care, but her congressional offices in Arizona and Washington continued to operate for the six weeks she was away.

Her return Wednesday was as sudden as her departure.

In an emailed statement from her office, the congresswoman said the “overwhelming support” of her staff, family and constituents is what helped her “fight through the toughest days” but that she still faces a lifelong recovery process.

She also plans to start holding public meetings with constituents, beginning with a “Congress on Your Corner” event Saturday in Tucson.

Kirkpatrick told the Arizona Daily Star on Wednesday that she does not expect her revelation of an alcohol dependence to become a factor in her campaign for re-election, pointing to the support she said she has received.

She has served four non-consecutive terms in Congress, first representing Flagstaff and now Tucson. Three Democrats have filed to challenge her, according to the Federal Election Commission, along with eight Republicans and one independent.

Kirkpatrick had raised a little more than $1 million for her campaign and had $621,088 on hand as of Dec. 31, the latest campaign filing with the FEC. Her nearest competitor in terms of fundraising is Republican hopeful Shay Stautz, a former University of Arizona lobbyist, who reported raising $142,455 and having $65,579 in the bank in his last filing.

But politics did not appear to be on the minds of most well-wishers Wednesday.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, tweeted that she was proud of Kirkpatrick and “happy she’s back at the Capitol on behalf of Southern Arizona today.”

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said in a statement that he was “beyond pleased to have my friend back in Washington today.”

“Ann is a fighter and I’m glad southern Arizona families have her fighting in their corner,” his statement said.

-Cronkite News reporter Jessica Myers contributed to this report.

Politics Reporter, Washington, D.C.