Exiting congressman talks about reaching for bipartisanship
Reprinted with permission from the Times Union
KINDERHOOK – We haven’t heard the last of Chris Gibson.
In an hour-plus interview in his Kinderhook office Monday, the popular three-term congressman left the door open for future political involvement after his son graduates from high school in the spring of 2019. He also detailed an upcoming book that will mix personal reflection with analysis as Gibson seeks to provide solutions to a number of issues facing the country — including a fractured Republican party.
Mr. Gibson, who will leave Congress after three terms at the end of this month, was resolute in his decision to walk away from public service at the height of his popularity in the large 19th Congressional District, which includes parts or all of Columbia. After the new year, he’ll start teaching — on subjects that include the politics of American national security — at Williams College in Massachusetts, a post that will allow him to take time for his family after decades of military service and his relatively brief foray in Washington politics.
The following is an edited transcript from Gibson’s exit interview with the Times Union:
Q: In six years, you’ve worked on a number of measures, including the Farm Bill, Zadroga Act, 21st Century Cures Act, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, as well as policies reforming the federal Veterans Affairs Department and impacting the economy. What kind of legacy do you believe you are leaving behind?
Gibson: I think I’ve got a strong legacy of legislation. Let me mention a couple of other things on this same score. I think you’re familiar with the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index. (This measures the ability of members of Congress to draw support from both sides of the aisle; Gibson ranked second among House members for 2015.) Of course that means as a Republican that I can draw Democratic support, but it also means I can draw Republican support. There are a couple of Republicans out there that tout their bipartisanship, and they’ve got virtually no support from Republicans.
In the 2014 cycle, I think I led the nation in what’s called “member money” — that is, members of Congress who donate to the re-election of somebody running. So clearly, I was able to gain the support of my colleagues in the Republican Party.
I felt that was part of my duties as a leader in a time of divided government: My responsibility was to be able to draw support from both sides of the aisle while holding dear to my principles, to serve my people and this nation.
Q: In terms of bipartisanship, you cobbled together support from both sides of the aisle for a resolution that acknowledges humans have had an impact on the changing climate. Do you feel you’ve had national impact in asserting that, while also recognizing the need for more study as to what those human impacts are?
A: As far as the resolution, absolutely we made a difference. Some people said when I endeavored to write this I would be the only one. “You’re not going to get any other Republicans to co-sponsor that legislation.” That evidently was not true, because I had 15 other Republicans who went the tangible, visible step to actually sign on. Then there’s another group that agree with me but didn’t want to sign on. The resolution really aligns with the statement I’ve made, which is if conservation isn’t conservative, then words have no meaning at all. It’s the same inclination as to why I’ve been urging my colleagues in this country to get back to a balanced budget, the same inclination that makes this a passionate issue for me, when I think about my children and hopefully someday their children, is the same inclination of why I want to protect the earth. It’s because I believe conservatives protect, or you might say, conserve resources.
Q: You continue to be a popular figure in the 19th District and you were seen by some as a viable challenger for governor in 2018. So why walk away now to teach (and help coach the JV baseball team at Ichabod Crane) rather than ride out another term in Congress?
A: The lord has blessed Mary Jo and I with three kids. I’m never going to get these last three years of our son’s adolescence back. Our youngest is 15 in age, and he needs his dad right now. So I’m going to be able to spend more time.
I’m going to go from working about 90 hours a week to about 45, and I still think I’m going to be able to make significant contributions to society in that 45. When our son graduates in June of 2019, then that’s a point for us to take examination as a decision point of whether or not we want to get back into leadership.
Q: You’ve been a critic of “neo-conservatives,” and you’re coming out with a book next year that you’ve said will make the case for “a reconstructed Republican Party.” You hope your book has national reach, but how do you plan to involve yourself in Republican politics in New York moving forward?
A: I do think the book is going to have a positive impact. But I think that’s really the role I’m going to play here, at least through the summer of ’19, is one of an analyst and a commentator. As a member of a faculty, I will not play a role in individual campaigns. But I do think I can have something to say that I hope will unite the party and really demonstrate to the American people why it is that these ideas that I’m advancing in this book — that I hope our party will fully embrace — are best for our country.
Q: Donald Trump continues to be divisive even within the Republican Party. Do you have faith he’ll lead the nation in a positive direction, given that you do agree with him on, among other issues, opposition to the Common Core education standards and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact?
A: When they say Donald Trump is a disrupter, he is a disrupter, and it’s a rigged system and it needs to change. Now, having said all that, it is clear that the way we conduct ourselves is different. I believe in treating everybody with dignity and respect. I’ve been personally disappointed in the way that he communicates with people.
On the issue of securing this country, I think it’s important when we do so, we don’t give up our liberty for security. This idea that we’re going to start religious tests (to ban Muslim immigrants), I don’t believe it will pass constitutional muster.
Keep in mind that was rhetoric, those were words that he said. We haven’t yet seen what he will do. In fact, we have seen any number of moments since the 8th of November where President-elect Trump has said, “Well, maybe I have a different view on that.” So I think we all need to take a step back and say, “We know what he said, but let’s wait and see what he does.” I’m hopeful at this point. The people have spoken. It is now time to come together, it is time to have faith that we are going to be able to do this. Although, as a staunch supporter of the Bill of Rights, I’m also vigilant. I’m going to be watching. In moments where I have a problem, I will disagree.