A progressive battle in upstate New York

by
February 3, 2014

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in traveling in a stage coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.”

— Washington Irving

Rep. Chris Gibson has tested Irving’s theory. Gibson, whose closely cropped graying hair announces his Army pedigree, believes he should be in the Guinness Book of Records for having moved so swiftly — in 10 months — from membership in America’s most admired to its least admired institution. On March 1, 2010, he ended a 24-year military career and on Nov. 2 was elected to Congress. This fall, he will participate in perhaps the year’s most interesting congressional contest.

Americans have sorted themselves out politically, so approximately 390 of the 435 House contests will be boring. Just 16 Republicans — Gibson is one — represent districts Barack Obama carried in 2012, only nine Democrats represent districts Mitt Romney carried, and perhaps fewer than 45 contests nationwide will be competitive. One will be in the 8,000 square miles of New York’s rural 19th District, which runs along the Hudson River from about 60 miles north of the Bronx to the Vermont border.

Gibson, 49, was raised in Kinderhook, a few hundred yards from the home of Martin Van Buren, a Jacksonian Democrat whom Gibson, a Reagan Republican, considers a kindred spirit. Gibson enlisted the day after he turned 17, but he graduated from Ichabod Crane High School — the Hudson Valley also gave the nation Washington Irving — and Siena College, served in the Gulf War, Kosovo and Iraq, rose to the rank of colonel with the 82nd Airborne, along the way earning four Bronze Stars and a Cornell PhD, and taught political science at West Point.

He entered politics when the tea party impulse was waxing, and he agrees with its adherents about limited government but favors compromise to get there. “The Constitution,” he notes with a colonel’s crispness, “was a compromise.” And, he adds, Patrick Henry, a tea party pinup, opposed ratification of it.

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