It’s going to be a big year for Congressman Chris Gibson. As he begins his fourth year in the House of Representatives, the Kinderhook Republican faces an election-year challenge from a well-funded Democratic competitor who is a political novice with tenuous local roots. Gibson is serving in a Congress with the lowest approval ratings of all time. Just after the new year began, Gibson gave an extended interview about how he sees things shaping up as the year unfolds.
Gibson said he favors an extension of unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million Americans, including almost 1,000 Ulster County residents, who saw theirs expire at the end of 2013. However, he said he believes the economy won’t recover until the business climate gets better, which he sees happening through “policies that facilitate growth.” He restated his theory, familiar to those who’ve attended editorial board meetings with him, of the six major keys to economic health: tax reform, regulatory relief and reform, driving down health care costs, driving down energy costs, smart investments and access to capital for expansion and markets overseas. “When you work those six variables, history shows we grow. … There’s nothing better for the unemployed than to have a job,” Gibson said.
“I want to see us extend the unemployment insurance because even as we are endeavoring to expand opportunities to help change the conditions [to increase job creation], the fact of the matter is there’s some people out there looking for work who haven’t been able to become employed yet,” said Gibson. He says the three-month extension (Durbin-Heller) tagged at a cost of about $4 billion currently jammed up in the Senate and with uncertain prospects in the House “is reasonable” as a step to a longer-term agreement with “pro-growth reforms” and savings. He said he doesn’t think that $4 billion needs to be pegged to a similar spending cut at this time.
The congressman also spoke with enthusiasm about the No Labels coalition, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers and citizens seeking to somehow rise above the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington.
“[No Labels] is gaining — we’ve been up and running for about a year. Our friendships are strong… we’ve developed trust, we have a focus on service first. We’re getting successes.” As an example, he cited a piece of the National Defense Authorization Act having to do with veterans’ health care which Gibson penned along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida.
Another more profound example of bipartisan unity is last month’s budget deal, where Democrats and Republicans struck a $1.1 trillion bargain to avoid further government shutdowns. “Look — it’s far from perfect, but very important that we reach it,” said Gibson.
Touts farm bill
“The farm bill is nearly there,” continued Gibson, predicting it will get wrapped up and sent to President Obama for his signature this month. The $500-billion bill, which reauthorizes agricultural subsidies and food stamps for the next five years, among other things, has been stuck for two years. According to a story this week in the Washington Post, a dispute over how to manage support for dairy farmers is holding things up.
“It’s going to be a good bill for upstate New York,” said Gibson, citing the establishment of a form of profit-margin insurance for dairy farmers and reforms for fruit and vegetable growers, including more research money to increase crop yield and better access to insurance. Also of benefit, he said, would be support for organic produce marketing and farm-to-table initiatives.
Gibson talked about legislation that would help in the struggle against Lyme disease. “We’re attacking it from a number of different perspectives,” said Gibson; he’s especially keen on getting a DNA-based test that would do better than the currently available ones, which only catch half of the cases. He added that a tick-repelling compound being developed for use in lotions, shampoos and soaps is a couple of years away from being approved.
Gibson said the Centers for Disease Control guidelines on the disease are an obstacle to better treatment and insurance coverage of Lyme cases; he called them “too narrow.” He said he’s working with his colleagues to get those guidelines changed.
In other parts of the discussion, Gibson hailed the increased cooperation between local government and New York City over watershed issues and touted the need to build on Ulster’s strong points — agriculture, tourism, healthcare, construction, schools and small businesses — as “the big idea,” advanced manufacturing — 3D printing, renewable energy and nanotechnology — is pursued.
Coming this fall
As previously noted, Gibson will be facing a challenger this year — Democrat Sean Eldridge. A millionaire in his own right, Eldridge heads up Hudson River Ventures, an investment firm which has pitched in sums ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 to numerous local businesses, mostly in the food and beverage industries. He’s married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who enjoys a reported net worth of something like $850 million. The couple bought a $1.9 million house in Shokan last year, establishing residency in the New York 19th Congressional District, a move which has brought the “carpetbagger” label on Eldridge.
Gibson prefaced his discussion of the upcoming race by bemoaning the current state of political journalism in America, both locally and nationally, which he pointed out tends to reduce elections into sports-like “horse race” narratives. “I feel there hasn’t really been a lot of coverage of the hard work we’ve been doing,” Gibson said. “And now all of a sudden there’s interest in politics. … Part of the reason why Americans are cynical is because the stories they read are often negative, they’re often divisive … and a lot of the public-service work doesn’t get reported.”
Gibson went on to talk about how he sees the race. “As one Democrat said to me in another county, had [Eldridge] come in and spent four to six years doing this kind of work, that would have been one thing, but to actually move up here and within a month file paperwork to raise money to go to Congress … it smacks of insincerity. … I think it does raise the question of what kind of people we’re going to be and what kind of representation we’re going to be have.”
The fundamental difference is experience, he said. “Almost virtually no experience and absolutely no ties to the district. You can say what you want about anyone, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Robert Kennedy [both out-of-staters who moved to New York to successfully run for U.S. Senate], but they had extensive experience.”
Gibson said he hopes his work will speak for itself. “My view is the best re-election strategy is service,” Gibson said. “Right now, what I sense in not only our district, but our country is that the American people are starving for the truth and for leadership. Those are the things I’m looking to bring to my service in the United States Congress.”