From his speech before the chamber of commerce in Kingston last week, it was hard to believe U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson might be running for governor in three years or so. Gibson announced last month an interest in statewide office, saying this would be his last of three terms in the House.
At the chamber he sounded like a thoroughly engaged congressman with long-term views for the betterment of the country. That he is, obviously, but only for the next 23 months. After that, he has said, he’ll work to energize the New York State Republican Party with the aim of electing state-wide candidates in 2018.
Does that mean running for governor, he was asked by local scribes at an impromptu news conference following his speech at the recently renamed Best Western Plus in Kingston. Interestingly, nobody in the audience of some 250 had asked the question during the 15-minute question-and-answer portion of the program.
“It’s a possibility,” Gibson told the media.
He actually sounded more like a candidate for state Republican chairman than governor. Gibson talked about organizing state Republicans, recruiting, educating and funding grassroots candidates on every level. He cited his own “pretty impressive” Congressional campaign team as an example of a means toward those ends.
To the chamber he talked mostly about national affairs, something expected of a federal official. Poking the hot buttons on a broad audience of educators, parents, immigrants, non-profit employees, farmers and businesspeople, he came across as the sensible moderate he had projected himself as during the last campaign.
The only mention of Albany was in his closing remarks. “I am disgusted by the news from Albany,” he told the crowd. “We’ve seen too much of this systemic and endemic corruption. We need term limits.” Applause.
“Absolute power absolutely corrupts,” he continued, paraphrasing Lord Acton. “The [Democratic] conference was supportive of the speaker [initially] out of fear. We need campaign finance reform.” More applause.
He didn’t say eight
Later on, Gibson explained to reporters what some saw as a sudden decision to limit his congressional career to six years rather than the eight many had assumed that he had set as his maximum congressional service. “I never said I’d serve four [two-year terms],” he told me. “I said I’d limit myself to up to four. Look it up,” he said.
Later, I did. That’s what he had said.
Warming to his subject, he declared, “The only way to combat corruption is with a viable two-party system.” One assumes Gibson knows Albany already has a viable two-party system: Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the Assembly, Democrats controlling the offices of governor, comptroller and attorney general, everybody working for each other’s benefit.
Term limits has a nice ring to it, but there’s evidence in the Assembly, at least, that normal attrition is already accomplishing that goal. What they need to limit is the terms of leaders and major committee chairs.
Since the 2010 election, more than 40 percent of Assembly members have left office, some in handcuffs. Did anything change? Since then the state Senate has functioned under several different leaderships. Has anything changed? We’ve also had a governor who promised change.
Gibson says he will not attempt to serve two purposes as he works through his last term as congressman. “Right now I’m focused on service to my district,” he said. “I have eleven counties to cover in my [19th Congressional District]. I can’t do that and try to cover 62.”
Which is to say, his is not a guns-and-butter strategy, or so he says. I think Gibson, always fully prepared and well-armed for battle, knows he almost has to go both ways. He can remain an active, engaged, ubiquitous congressman, and he can also roam upstate with a Republican message of reform and renewal. Gibson has a record, a clear and compelling message, and three years to get his ducks in line.
Gibson got laughs with these one-liners:
On U.S. Sen. John McCain: “He never met a war he didn’t want to start.”
On why militant North Korea hasn’t invaded South Korea: “Because they’re good guys? We see no evidence of that.”
On social issues: “My wife has a master’s in social work. She gives me advice on social issues. Every day.”
On fossil fuels versus solar: “It’s a false choice. Nobody goes to see a one-ball juggler.”
On the standing ovation as he took the podium: “Golly.”
During a wide-ranging speech to the chamber, Gibson didn’t mention that those huge increases in local electricity rates he was fighting to rescind had come home to roost in consumer bills this month. According to Central Hudson, electric rates for residential consumers jumped from 7.3 cents a kilowatt hour to nine cents over the most recent billing period. That works out to over 23 percent. Ouch!
Gibson and other Hudson Valley elected leaders have been fighting a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reconfiguration of capacity zones that merged the Hudson Valley with New York City. But not effectively enough, it seems.
And speaking of power sources, given this spike in electricity rates, will Ulster County government reconsider plans to move to an all-electric fleet?
I don’t usually put much faith in man-in-the-street newspaper polls, but one by the Poughkeepsie Journal on last week’s “historical storm of the century” had the ring of truth. The paper got 298 responses to its question: “Do you tend to believe weather forecasts are accurate?” Almost 78 percent of respondents said no! Meteorologists did better on the second one at the beginning of this week, however.
Officials, be it school superintendents, mayors, county executives or governors, have to err on the side of caution, regardless of public inconvenience or massive overtime. Wild-eyed TV reports don’t help matters, though.
Payback is ….
Acting more naturally than some might appreciate, Ulster legislature Chairman John Parete rewarded friends and punished enemies through his annual committee assignments last week.
Losers and winners closely followed the 14-8 vote that reelected Parete as chairman a few weeks ago. Through this process of sausage-making, some good people got moved from committees where they had been effective, and others to questionable assignments. How, for instance, could Parete dump environmentalists Tracey Bartels and Manna Jo Greene from the Environmental Committee? And is newfound Parete ally Chris Allen of Saugerties, a legislator for all of 13 months, really ready for a seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee?
Allen, who says he didn’t ask for that plum assignment, says he’s qualified, and then some. The freshman Democrat says he wants to run against Republican state Sen. George Amedore next year.
Hey! Give the guy a chance, Amedore has been in office all of 36 days (as of Thursday).
Parete, denying the obvious, says he likes to shake up committees in order to give legislators “broader” perspective.