I first met Chris Gibson in 2010. Some of you will recall I was running communications for then- Congressional candidate Nan Hayworth. It was my first introduction to Putnam County, and the astoundingly vicious politics the county is famous for (remember that Leibell/Odell primary, anyone?).
Anyway, both Hayworth and Gibson were Republicans; we did a couple of events together in Poughkeepsie, roughly the crossover point of the two districts.
His resume is impressive, but what’s striking in person is a fundamental decency. He cares about his family, about freedom and about the country. Not about the minutia of this or that house bill, but about important things.
His commitment to actually fixing things is genuine, including working with Democrats to make things happen. He’s done a number of joint events with the representative for our own district, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat.
And in Albany last weekend, Gibson and I crossed paths again. He spoke at the spring conference of the New York Press Association. It’s a gathering of newspaper staff – publishers, advertising directors, writers, sales people, designers, editors. Almost everyone there represented a small newspaper, like mine. Some larger than mine, but not by a great deal. And this gathering every spring is now the largest such convention of newspaper people in the nation. These are the survivors, who will be around long after Facebook jumps the shark (perhaps it has already). These are the people who gather “real news.”
“This is obviously a time I think all Americans need to stand up for our freedoms, including a free press,” he told the group. “As we gather here today, this country is arguably more divided than at any time since the Civil War. There’s a pervasive feeling the system is rigged for the moneyed interests – and it is.”
Here’s why he’s especially alarmed: “What’s different about now, arguably, is that we as a people are starting to doubt whether we can overcome our problems.” In good measure at the instigation of political parties, and the fringes, he said, “We have moved away from a process that was really designed for us to come together.” He traces this back to the founding and then the Constitution: Small states got two senators. Large states got representatives based on population. The president was powerful, but HAD to work with the Congress. Think this was normal? It wasn’t: “The history of political change before America was violence,” he noted. “We have a tendency to look back and say, ‘Of course,’ but that was radical.”
Today, “at a time when we’ve never been more connected, have we ever seen a time we’ve been more alienated from each other?”
He currently teaches at Williams College, just across the border in Massachusetts. The choice is deliberate on his part, to spend more time with his family.
Unpleasant things, including restraining spending, have to be done, he said. Compromises have to be made: “We have to demand not just that they talk to each other, but that they solve the pressing problems of our time,” he said of voters and lawmakers. Besides voters demanding compromise, he would cap the amount of money spent on campaigns, require everything be reported, ban outside spending on races, and institute independent redistricting.
He notes that many conservatives would call him “squishy” for working with Democrats. But, “a real understanding of the founding principles recognizes the fact that the Constitution itself was a compromise.”
In other words, compromise is not an abandonment of the ideas that helped found America – compromise is the best representation of those ideas.
Gibson is a veteran, served four tours in Iraq, has taught at West Point. A patriot through and through. Choices. Compromise. Accountability. We can do it.
Until next week.
Douglas Cunningham is publisher of both the Courier and its sister paper the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Letters on this or other topics are welcome. Limit to 500 words. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach Cunningham at that email, or call 845-265-2468.