EDITORIAL: Eldridge for Congress

YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT  from the tsunami of negative TV ads, but the race for Congress in the 19th District between incumbent Republican Chris Gibson and Democrat Sean Eldridge is a contest between two decent people who have much to offer the district and the nation. What separates them are very different visions for the best way to accomplish their goals.

Mr. Gibson, who has consistently led in the polls, benefits from more than the power of incumbency. His stature comes from his career as a distinguished Army officer, his academic achievements and his willingness to work on local and national issues that require crossing party lines on matters like unnecessary power lines, land conservation, Lyme disease, veterans affairs and the federal Agriculture Bill. He has become a familiar presence throughout a district that covers all of Columbia and all or part of 10 other counties. His strongest critics admit they respect him.Mr. Eldridge, more than 20 years younger than his opponent, has far fewer achievements on his resume, though he helped lead the effort to win marriage equality in New York State. Unlike Mr. Gibson, Mr. Eldridge has some business experience.

This race is a mix of local and national issues, and yet there’s no way to separate the local effects of climate change from its worldwide implications. What we do about the human activities contributing to climate change is arguably the most critical question of our time. In that regard Mr. Gibson’s thinking has clearly evolved since he was first elected in 2010. He now calls the threat undeniable and has helped some local alternative energy projects.

But back when he ran for office that first time he signed a pledge from a group called Americans for Prosperity, funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, that he has not repudiated. In the pledge Mr. Gibson agrees to “oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”

It sounds fiscally prudent. But to rule out raising federal revenue–taxes–to mitigate and hopefully reduce the likelihood of catastrophes like super storms, needlessly closes off options we may require to ensure our very survival. This is an irrational response to a clear and immediate threat.

One of the points Mr. Eldridge emphasizes in his campaign is the high cost of inaction on global climate change. In 2014 the debate should be about how we pay for mobilizing the nation to reduce the chemical experiment we’re conducting on our atmosphere. He’s not concerned if that discussion upsets people like the Kochs, who benefit handsomely from the fuels responsible for the threat.

We need new thinking in Washington on climate change and we need it now. Mr. Eldridge, impatient to preserve a future for his generation, will demand it.

There remains a palpable mistrust of Mr. Gibson by women’s groups in the district over his support during his first term for a proposal to end federal funding for clinics run by Planned Parenthood that provide healthcare services for low-income women. The services do not include abortion. He now says that approach didn’t work but he doesn’t say what he would do differently and insinuates that Planned Parenthood is violating the law.

This is irresponsible and not worthy of the candidate. Planned Parenthood offers essential services to our communities, especially young people.
On women’s healthcare in particular, Mr. Eldridge has strong record as an advocate for Planned Parenthood. His views about the need for accessible healthcare for women represent mainstream thinking.

What we can do to reduce violence with firearms? Mr. Gibson has a bill he believes would reform our mental health system to better identify and treat mentally ill people who might represent a threat. But the National Rifle Association, which supports the congressman, has blocked government funding for scientific research that might lead to any restrictions on gun ownership. So how do we stop this epidemic of gun deaths without the data and studies to assess its medical implications?

Mr. Eldridge is ready to work with responsible gun owners on a national system of comprehensive background checks and other common sense measures that could make all of us safer without unreasonably burdening the large number of law-abiding gun owners.

How many more children have to die before Congress accepts that guns deaths are a major public health issue?

For all his genuine independence Mr. Gibson represents the past. Mr. Eldridge is our future. We should elect him to Congress November 4.

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