A self-described pragmatic optimist, retiring U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson says the country could go either way with Donald Trump as president. At a SUNY New Paltz appearance Monday evening, Gibson was ambivalent about a president-elect whom he did not actively support and whose suitability as commander-in-chief he questioned during the campaign.
“This is a leader like none we have seen,” he said in his valedictory talk. “He is unpredictable, but he has shown a pragmatic approach that could very well bring people together. At the same time, his interpersonal style can divide people. Which will show up? It could go really well, or it could go really badly.”
Trump’s campaign could be instructive, Gibson said. “Look at his platform. Certainly there’s enough there in terms of infrastructure and tax reform for both sides to work together.”
Gibson himself is headed for Williams College, where he has signed up to teach government and leadership until June 2019.
The Kinderhook congressman doesn’t regret his decision to retire, announced in January 2015, after three terms in office. “I think I was meant to be a leader during a challenging time for government,” he said. “I don’t think there is any question we are better off now than at this time during the holidays in 2010 when I was preparing to take office. Unemployment is down, the deficit has been reduced, and we passed important legislation in terms of infrastructure and disease control. There’s no question our team made a difference. Unfortunately, positive outcomes like that don’t seem to attract much media attention.”
Gibson said his successor, fellow Republican and neighbor, John Faso, will make “an “excellent congressman.” “He is a good person, an integrous man,” Gibson said. “He has the experience, he will work hard. I have every confidence in him.”
Faso defeated Democrat Zephyr Teachout by about 27,000 votes in November.
Gibson does not expect to play any formal role with Faso, other than to be available for advice, if asked. Faso, 64, served eight terms in the state Assembly before running for governor, comptroller (unsuccessfully) and Congress (successfully). He was a lobbyist/attorney during his years out of office.
Gibson, then 21, first met Faso shortly after graduating from Siena College in December 1983. “John had just come to town and was writing bills in the Assembly,” he recalled. “I had graduated college early with a commission in the Army, but the Army wasn’t ready for me. Someone introduced me to John, and he hired me for three months.”
Gibson rose to the rank of colonel during a 24-year Army career. A decorated paratroop commander, he was wounded by shrapnel in what he called “a pretty intense gunfight” in Mosul in 2005.
Book in the works
He announced his retirement from Congress a year ago with three goals in mind: writing a book on his military/political experiences, securing a teaching job in academia and spending more time with his growing family. Gibson and his wife Mary Jo, a social worker, have three children. Katie is a freshman at SUNY Albany, Maggie a senior at Ichabod Crane High School and Connor a sophomore at the same school. Maggie will begin at SUNY New Paltz in August.
After six years of 14-hour days traveling across an 11-country district roughly the size of Rhode Island, Gibson will have a relatively easy schedule, teaching two classes a week some 45 minutes from home as a Kaplan professor at Williams College. With a doctorate in history from Cornell University, Gibson had previously taught at West Point from 1995 to 1998. “I enjoy working with our future leaders,” he said.
He’ll also work on his third book, Rally Point, due for publication next fall. “If you can’t fall asleep, try reading the other two,” he told the SUNY New Paltz audience Monday night.
Despite his ambivalence about which Trump the country will get come Jan. 20, Gibson says he remains “optimistic, hopeful that our elected leaders will come together.”