HILLSDALE – In a race that has drawn national attention and big spending by outside groups, incumbent first-term Representative Scott Murphy, a Democrat, faces a powerful challenge from retired army Colonel Chris Gibson, a Republican.
The two men differ sharply on the best way to revive the regional economy, although they agree that jobs and the economy are the most important issues.
The district covers all of Columbia County and stretches from the middle of Dutchess County to the heart of the Adirondacks and through the Catskills.
Last week, both candidates were interviewed separately for this report.
After a total of 29 years in the United States Army and National Guard that included deployments to Berlin, Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq and Haiti, Colonel Chris Gibson(R) retired from the military last year to run for Congress in New York’s 20th district.
In an interview at his campaign headquarters the candidate explained how his past experience has prepared him for Congress, and outlined the course of action he will pursue in behalf of this district if elected.
As a 17-year-old high school junior, inspired by a strong sense of patriotism during the presidency of Ronald Regan, he enlisted and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. during the summers before his senior year and before starting his undergraduate education at Sienna College, where he majored in history.
While in the military, he rose through the ranks from private to colonel. During this time he earned a master’s degree in public affairs and a Ph.D. in government from Cornell University, and completed a Hoover National Security Fellowship at Stanford University. His book, “Securing the State,” was published in 2008.
As an officer in the 82nd Airborne Division, Mr. Gibson candidate commanded a battalion of 3,700 troops, but his first leadership experience, he stressed, was as captain of the Ichabod Crane varsity basketball team, where as a point guard, he relished the strategy and his involvement in “something bigger than myself.”
If elected he believes he can best serve the district on the Agriculture Committee, the same committee that his opponent, incumbent Congressman Scott Murphy, serves on. He said he would also like to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, but since that’s a tough one for a first-term representative to break into, a slot on the Energy and Commerce Committee might offer him a way to impact taxes and regulations, and the armed services committee could be a possibility for a third committee, he said.
Mr. Gibson agrees with his opponent that biggest problem facing the 20th District is a need for more jobs. Unemployment, at 9.6% per cent, he said, is at its highest point since the Depression. Fighting the main impediments to growth, taxes, regulations and health care costs, would be his approach toward economic recovery.
“Let’s get the private sector economy going again. That’s the first step towards a balanced budget,” he said.
He favors extending the Bush era tax cuts and changing the alternative minimum tax that kicks in when individuals or companies earn over $200,000 to $250,000. The level needs to be raised and then indexed to inflation, he said. Mr. Gibson said that New York’s state income tax and high winter energy costs are two factors that create a challenge for businesses here. Unlike his opponent, he did not support recent legislation, defeated in the House, that would have raised taxes on companies that move jobs off-shore.
He wants to start over on the health care law, which he said will cost far more than expected, because cost analyses by the Congressional Budget Office failed to address whole areas like administrative costs. “We need to repeal and replace it,” he said. “It will be bad for the economy and will have an onerous impact on small business.” He said he has heard from the business community that insurance premiums have gone up 11 to 35%, driven by the new law that was signed into law last March.
Opening up the market to let consumers buy insurance from brokers in any state instead of being confined to what’s on offer in their own state, passing tort reform and requiring insurers to include catastrophic care and cover preexisting conditions are stipulations that would be in his bill. He is waiting to see what the courts say about the constitutionality of requiring everyone to purchase health insurance; he is against making the purchase mandatory.
Energy policy occupies a key position in Mr. Gibson’s plan. It can impact jobs, education and prosperity, and ties in with his views on global warming, which he sees as real but without a proven cause.
“It appears to me that the temperature now is rising, but what’s not clear to me is what’s causing it. Why don’t we just be good stewards to the environment? It’s the right thing to do. . .(and is) just good common sense,” he said.
He supports renewable energy sources like solar, hydro electric and wind power where economically advantageous sites can be found.
But he reserves his greatest enthusiasm for nuclear energy which he calls safe, clean and abundant. “One plant can provide for 300,000 homes, I’d like to see us put two in [the district] actually. That’s how we can help schools and it can help us with property tax relief.”
“Getting off fossil fuels will help reduce the deficit and property taxes, and help fund education,” he said.
For farmers, the candidate believes we need to seek a better pricing mechanism for milk than the Chicago Futures Market which he says is not active enough and can result in depressed prices. Change will require a bipartisan regional effort. Federal regulations that require milk spills to be treated the same as an oil spill and state rules that call for $20,000 tractor diesel retrofits he calls “non-commonsensical and unhelpful.” Unlike his opponent he does not support a cap-and-trade emissions reduction scheme.
Downsizing big government is another cornerstone to the candidate’s plan. He has said he would like to return the function of the federal Department of Education to a Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where it was until 1980 when the new education department opened with 480 employees and a budget of $12 billion. Now it’s up to 4,800 employees and a budget of $80 billion, he said. He has also said he’d like to see the department of energy and Homeland Security consolidated into other departments.
“Is education better, the same, or worse since 1979?” he asked. While in favor of keeping the federal support that goes directly to school boards, he says he hopes to reduce federal bureaucracy and stop the unfunded mandates.
“Do we think the bureaucrats have a better answer? We have done this too much in our society. We have sent our power and our tax dollars down to Washington, DC. I think there is a conductivity between that and why we are in a challenge today.”
“It’s clear as I travel around the district, the most important issue is the economy,” said incumbent Congressman Scott Murphy(D) in response to a question about the most important issue facing the 20th district.
“We need targeted tax relief and regulatory relief for businesses. A local manufacturer told me: ‘I have an American company and when I manufacture something here we have to pay a 45% tax rate (including federal, state and local taxes) American companies abroad pay nothing.’ We need to level the playing field. We set this up — our own country — we made it so hard for people to do business here. We need to lower taxes and make it more competitive and get rid of special tax breaks for businesses doing jobs overseas. It’s a simple common sense solution.”
“Gibson says he will look at it later,” he said of his opponent, Chris Gibson. “How many jobs have to leave before he is ready to address this problem? The time is now; I don’t want to see another job leave.”
Mr. Murphy’s proposed legislation to help keep jobs here did not pass earlier this fall, but he says he’ll keep trying to get it through along with other proposals that make up his program to help small businesses, which in his view, include most of the district’s 4,000 farms.
His accelerated depreciation program designed to help businesses invest and grow would allow them to write off 50% of the cost of depreciable property including equipment such as tractors, wind turbines, solar panels, and computers, during the first year. He proposes expanding the Small Business Administration loan program to raise loan limits from $2 million to $5 million for start-ups, expansion, and job creation.
He supports removing capital gains tax for sales of new businesses, a proposal that would increase rewards for entrepreneurial activity, and he has championed the repeal of the 1099 provision, the removal of a requirement in the tax code that businesses issue a form for every vendor who supplies them with over $600 worth of materials or services. Another provision he supports allows businesses to apply losses from previous years to reduce their tax liability in the current year.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which got the Congressman’s vote, led to $559,806,947 for New York’s 20th District recovery projects, he said.
Congressman Murphy, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, said he worked to provide support to dairy farmers during a bad year last year, when they could hardly break even. He introduced legislation to provide extra financial support to dairy farmers, he strove to restore balance in the dairy pricing system and to reactivate the USDA’s Dairy Export Incentive Program. He lent his support to the inclusion of $350 million in emergency relief for farmers in the 2010 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
He has described the requirement of a milk spill plan for farms storing over 1320 gallons milk “costly” and “burdensome,” and has called for comprehensive reform of the visa system to help farmers and others bring in temporary workers in a timely fashion. He supports the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, and extension of broadband internet connection into rural areas, and has worked to solve one of businesses’ most intractable problems, healthcare.
When he held back his vote on an earlier version of the Health Care Bill, a move that raised ire in some quarters in his district, he did it, because, “I didn’t think it went far enough in controlling costs,” he said. In the next version he was able to add provisions designed to crack down on the $60 billion we lose to Medicare fraud, discounts for people who take better care of themselves, and incentives for doctors who provide quality care and positive outcomes. He stressed that he took the time to read the entire 2,000-page document and spoke with hundreds of health experts and constituents at meetings held in every town in the district to research the problem.
The bill that he did vote for in March of this year prevents insurance companies from denying care based on preexisting conditions. Families and small businesses can now join exchanges like the one offered by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce to obtain lower group rates. Members of Congress are required by the bill to join these new exchanges for their own health coverage.
He agrees with his opponent that the system still needs tort reform, but he believes the new law will provide better and more equitable care at a lower cost and has said it could lower the federal deficit by 1.3 trillion over 20 years.
Mr. Murphy said that support for business and education are key factors in an economic recovery. He said he has provided support for Local Ocean, the Hudson fish farm, and has expressed admiration for Harvest Spirits, the Valatie distillery that uses local apples to make vodka, brandy, and other fruit based spirits.
As a parent, he wants his kids to be able to find good jobs here so they can remain in the district. He stresses the need to improve schools so they can train the next generation of innovators and create a highly-skilled workforce that can compete globally. He supports President Obama’s Race to the Top education improvement program as a way to help schools move forward, and helped pass The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which is intended to streamline the college financial aid system and make federal loans more affordable for middle class families.
On the subject of dredging the Hudson, he has said he would like to bring General Electric and the Environmental Protection Agency together to discuss how to best dredge the Hudson River to remove PCBs.