GHENT– November 4 will see voters choose between incumbent Republican Chris Gibson and Democrat Sean Eldridge as the representative of New York’s 19th Congressional District.
The 19th District includes all of Columbia County and all or part of 10 other counties: Delaware, Greene, Ostego, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster, Broome, Dutchess, Montgomery and Rensselaer.In a district with more than 475,000 registered voters, Republicans outnumber Democrats by only about 3,000—although close to a third of all registered voters are unaffiliated.
Opensecrets.org—the Internet arm of a think tank called the Center for Responsive Politics—reports that, at about $8 million, the race for the 19th District is the sixth most expensive congressional race this election cycle, in terms of money raised. However, it is farther down the list for money spent, which is largely attributable to the fact that Mr. Gibson has only spent about $1.8 million of the $3 million he has raised. Mr. Eldridge has spent about $4.6 million of the nearly $5 million he has raised. Mr. Gibson asserts that probably about $2 million more will have been spent by each side by November 4—with his $2 million coming from outside groups, and Mr. Eldridge spending $2 million of his own money.
Profiles of each candidate follow.
Chris Gibson has served two terms in the House of Representatives; the first as a representative for New York’s 20th District before district boundaries were redrawn for the 2012 election cycle. Mr. Gibson won his first election against Scott Murphy, a Democrat, who had won a special election to fill the seat of Kirsten Gillibrand, when she was appointed to the Senate in 2009.
Mr. Gibson, a Republican also running on the Conservative and Independence lines, prides himself on being known as an “independent Republican.” He notes that he was one of 31 Republicans who voted against the extension of the Patriot Act in May 2011. “They really tried to break my arm to vote for the Patriot Act, and I just wouldn’t do it because it’s wrong…. The leadership were like, ‘If you vote against it, people will think there’s something wrong with it because you were a colonel in the army.’ It’s unconstitutional because of the roving wiretap and because of the business records.” Despite his opposition, the extension passed.
Mr. Gibson votes with the majority of Republicans just under 78% of the time, putting him third among Republican members of the House in terms of voting against the party line. “I’m a leader in this group No Labels—about 90 members of Congress in both parties.”
Mr. Gibson says he has a “self-imposed term-limit” of eight years. He says he “wouldn’t rule out” running for higher office, “but it’s not likely…. I want to write and teach and coach.”
He says his vote in favor of the Farm Bill–a version of which is adopted roughly every five years-has helped the district. He specifically noted the Beginning Farmer program at Hawthorne Valley Farm and the Columbia County Land Conservancy as beneficiaries of the Farm Bill. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, “I helped get that thing written,” he says of the law. “I gave a voice to our constituents.”
He counters criticism of decreased funding for the SNAP program, previously known as food stamps, saying that the baseline for nutrition funding will increase in future years and that the bill addresses some of the inconsistent ways states distributed food assistance to low-income families.
Mr. Gibson also wants to highlight his work on the Tick-borne Disease Research Transparency and Accountability Act of 2014, a bill he wrote. The bill is co-sponsored by two other members of the New York delegation, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18th) and Paul Tonko (D-20th), among others. Mr. Gibson said he is working with Ms. Gillibrand to get the bill passed in the Senate.
“I helped lower energy costs in our area,” says Mr. Gibson. He cites his work with Mr. Maloney on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The amendment reversed what he described as an “arbitrary decision” by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “that jacked our electricity costs six to ten percent. So one of two things will happen now. Either we’ll get it through the Senate. Or the FERC will review their decision. I think based on our pressure, they’re going to vacate their decision.”
On another matter he says, “I helped shape the most significant reform of the [Department of Veterans Affairs] in our lifetimes. It provides more use of outside doctors to reduce the backlog. It strengthens the V.A. with more money and 27 new clinics, and brings more accountability.”
Mr. Gibson says that Mr. Eldridge’s campaign has misrepresented his position on the gas and oil drilling process called fracking. “The fact is there’s only been one vote in Congress on this issue, and I voted to protect our water and our air. I’m also the author of what’s called the Frack Act, which requires companies to disclose chemicals and to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. I’m the lead Republican on that bill, and I think I may still be the only Republican on that bill.”
“We’re waiting on a health study that’s coming back now that’s going to be addressing the methane. I’ve also said nobody should be forced to do it. If you have a municipality that votes to ban it, they’re voices should be heard,” he says.
Mr. Gibson says that Mr. Eldridge’s campaign has also misrepresented his views on abortion. “My view is it’s a private choice between a woman and her doctor. But I don’t support late-term abortion. And I don’t support taxpayer dollars for abortion. Except in both those cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother.”
On the minimum wage, he says, “I support raising, but I want to see everybody making more money, and to do that, you have to really grow the economy.”
Of campaign finance reform, Mr. Gibson says the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was “wrong.” He says he supports a cap on spending per campaign based on an “algorithm,” which would allow higher spending in larger media markets. “Then you would disclose your donors, and then you would reject all outside spending…. We would need an amendment to the Constitution.”
Based on recent polls, Mr. Gibson says that he feels “very strong support, including from a number of Democrats.” He says he feels like he’s “in a stronger place” than he was in either of his previous two campaigns. He attributes this to the fact that, because of redistricting after his first election, this is the first time that he has not had to introduce himself to a new group of voters. In 2012, Mr. Gibson says he was “an incumbent, but only for about 40% of the district.”
Sean Eldridge—the Democratic candidate also running on the Working Families party ticket—says that he is running because “we’re living right now with the least productive Congress in the history of our country.”
Mr. Eldridge says that the “300,000 phone calls and door-knocks” from his 1,000 volunteers have given his campaign “great momentum right now in this final week. We’re very much in the get-out-the-vote push.”
The two issues Mr. Eldridge says he cares about most are the economy and campaign finance reform. Mr. Eldridge cites his work with Hudson River Ventures—the “small business investment company” of which Mr. Eldridge is president—as one way in which he has attempted to spur economic growth in the district “first hand.” Hudson River Ventures has worked with the Chatham Brewery, “as well as with the Copake Agricultural Center there. I was also on the board of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation.”
Mr. Eldridge also says that rebuilding and renewing the area’s infrastructure is a high priority, which will help the flagging economy. “I think the federal government needs to be a better partner. I’d like to see much more robust investment in infrastructure…. About 60% of New York’s roads need to be rebuilt—many of our bridges and dams. And there’s a cost to drivers in the capital area. Over a thousand dollars extra maintenance because of how bad our infrastructure is right now.
“I’d like to see the creation of a national infrastructure bank, which would leverage public and private funding to have the kind of investment in infrastructure that I think is needed,” he says.
In addition to traditional infrastructure projects, Mr. Eldridge also noted the need for better high-speed Internet access. “I think we should have universal access to high speed Internet…. There are thousands of families who don’t have access to high speed Internet and broadband, and I think that’s critical if we want to see job growth.”
Mr. Eldridge also discusses the need for reforms that make access to credit easier. “When folks are trying to start a business or expand their business, getting access to credit remains a challenge. I think we could reform the Small Business Administration (SBA) at the federal level to provide easier access to credit and also just a faster response time.
Because right now I’ve heard that when folks are approaching the SBA or a bank, it takes many months to get a response.”
Of campaign finance reform, Mr. Eldridge says, “A consistent theme that I’m hearing is that voters don’t feel like their voices are being heard in Washington right now. And I think that’s in large part because corporate money and special interest money has been dominating the conversation. I think we need to get rid of Citizens United.”
While Mr. Eldridge says that “there’s certainly been an attempt to distort that in some of the attack ads,” he says the main focus of his campaign is “getting our positive message out.” He does offer that “Gibson—certainly when he’s in the district—talks about moderate, no-labels leadership, but I think his voting record has been a different story. I don’t think its moderate to vote to defund Planned Parenthood or to vote to sue President Obama when they don’t have time to work on so many other issues.”
Mr. Eldridge is young relative to Mr. Gibson—they are 28 and 50 respectively. Mr. Eldridge says he believes his relative youth is an advantage. “As a younger candidate, I certainly hope to bring to the table a greater sense of urgency. Right now, we’re just seeing delay in Congress, and I think as a younger candidate, I can certainly be the face of the generation that going to inherit a lot of these problems, whether its growing student debt, whether it’s doing nothing about climate change, whether its delaying on investing in our infrastructure and job training—I want to bring more urgency.”
Mr. Eldridge says that his experience running the marriage equality campaign in New York would be helpful as a legislator. “I’m proud to have helped run the marriage equality campaign in New York State…. I learned a lot in that process about how to pass difficult legislation in a bipartisan way, which is how we passed the bill in the Senate…. So that experience would certainly inform the kind of leadership I’d want to bring to Washington.”
Mr. Eldridge says that the Republican budget proposals are the worst legislation he has seen in recent years in Congress. “Both the Ryan budget and the Cooper-Latourette budget. Congressman Gibson supported the Ryan budget, and now the Cooper-Latourette budget, which would create pretty dramatic cuts to Medicare and Social Security…. I certainly wouldn’t support them. I think we need to protect the safety net that we have and millions of Americans and seniors rely on…. This is a big difference that Congressman Gibson and I have. I think he’s voted again and again to balance the budget on the backs of our seniors.”
Of recent legislation that he supported, Mr. Eldridge says, “One thing I do support is the Buffet Rule, which would require millionaires to pay at least as much in taxes as middle class families. And I think the need for the Buffet Rule speaks to how broken our current tax system is. I’d rather see us close the loopholes on big corporations and have millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share rather than cutting Medicare and Social Security as Congressman Gibson has voted to do.”