Shortly after the House Farm Bill hearing March 9 in Saranac Lake, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson came by the Enterprise office for what proved to be, like the other times we'd met with him, a long and satisfying interview on a wide range of topics.
It was our first editorial board meeting with the Republican from Kinderhook since before he was elected in November 2010 (he doesn't make it up here to the northern tip of his twisty-shaped district too often), and it might have been the last time, too. The North Country part of his district will shift next year into the one now served by Rep. Bill Owens; that was made official Monday.
We'll miss Mr. Gibson, although we do think it makes sense to have the whole North Country in one congressional district. We also like Mr. Owens - although we'll withhold comments on him for now, since he faces a serious race for re-election within our area.
Chris Gibson talks with Enterprise staff March 9 in the newspaper office's break room in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Farther downstate, Democrats Julian Schreibman and Joel Tyner are running against Mr. Gibson. We don't know them and probably won't cover that race very closely since it won't directly affect our readers anymore, but we think it's fair to warn these guys that they face an uphill slog. Mr. Gibson is one of the good ones.
We're surprised by some of the rhetoric. For instance, Donald Avallone of Saugerties, who nominated Mr. Schreibman among Ulster County Democrats, told the Kingston Daily Freeman Monday, "He is more than capable of cutting through the rhetoric of the room-temperature-IQ, hate-spewing Tea Partiers currently serving in the House, including the 19th-century throwback he will oppose this November, Chris Gibson."
That's nothing like the Chris Gibson we know.
Rather, he impresses us as one of the most balanced, intelligent, knowledgeable, reasonable and grounded politicians out there. He has palpable leadership skills, and he emphasizes governing rather than politics - especially governing by compromise, as the U.S. Constitution prescribes. He told us that when he deals with other politicians, they may disagree on 13 things, but he wants to focus on the seven things they agree on and work from there. In our experience, that's not just talk; it's how he's behaved with other New York House members like Rep. Owens, a Democrat.
We also share Mr. Gibson's views on many issues, including foreign policy. This 24-year Army veteran, who rose to the rank of colonel and served in combat many times, urges caution in engaging the U.S. military in battle unless absolutely necessary. He has led a bill to limit the president's power to make war (which we think would be more constitutional), he favors a leaner modern military, and he recommends withdrawing most ground troops to home soil. He disagreed with the U.S.'s recent involvement in Libya's civil war and hopes to avoid entanglements in Syria. While there are times when the only reasonable option is to risk American troops, he said, the U.S.'s engagements in recent decades didn't meet that standard.
"I have seen first-hand what happens in war," he told us. "It's killing people and breaking things. ... You've got to recognize that it's a very serious decision, one that should only be undertaken after a long discussion, the American people's involvement and a vote in Congress."
On education, we agree with Mr. Gibson on rolling back federal policy so teachers and students are less enslaved to standardized tests and so the federal government spends much less money. He makes a good point that whatever gains, if any, the U.S. has made since it spun the Department of Education off from what's now the Department of Health and Human Services in 1980, they aren't enough to justify the price tag.
We also think Rep. Gibson's moderate views and solution-based approach would make him a good person to have at the table for needed national compromises on tax reform and immigration. On the former, he's for simplicity, closing loopholes (focusing on "effective tax rates," as he puts it) and not raising taxes on the vast majority of Americans in lower tax tiers. On immigration, he favors an idea that might be agreeable all around: Illegal immigrants would pay a reasonable fine to settle the fact that they broke the law, and then they can move forward as legitimate U.S. residents who can work freely.
We asked him if he's considered, or been asked to consider, running for president. He answered that while it's been mentioned to him, he wants to teach high school or college after Congress. Fair enough. He'd be a fantastic teacher. But if not him, the U.S. could use someone like him as a presidential candidate.
Some people will surely deride this editorial as a naive love letter to a smooth-talking politician. They're entitled to that opinion, but we've interviewed tons of politicians and have given them plenty of criticism. Praise should also be given when it's due, and here, we think, it is.