SARANAC LAKE - U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson says he loves representing the North Country, and he hopes legislative redistricting lets him continue serving people in places like Warren, Washington and Essex counties.
But Gibson also knows the final decision is out of his hands. New York's 20th Congressional District, which he represents now, could look very different when redistricting finally wraps up.
The Republican from Kinderhook stopped by the Enterprise on March 9 after a hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill, held at North Country Community College. Gibson is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Agriculture Committee, which hosted the hearing.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from Kinderhook, talks about the issues that he sees as important to the constituents of New York’s 20th Congressional District during an interview on March 9 at the Enterprise office.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Current congressional districts: Chris Gibson currently represents New York’s 20th Congressional District, seen in orange.
Possible congressional districts, as proposed by Special Master Roanne Mann: Chris Gibson's 20th would become the 19th District, seen in green.
Gibson spoke with the Enterprise for more than an hour and hit on topics ranging from the chaos in Syria to the field of Republican presidential candidates.
"I love my current district," Gibson said. "And I'm very partial to it."
The state Legislature has reached agreement on new Assembly and Senate districts, but congressional maps will be set by a three-judge panel, based on recommendations by Special Master Roanne Mann, a judge assigned to this task.
Mann's maps would have Gibson and/or his successors representing a more southern district that doesn't include any towns or counties in the North Country.
Gibson said it took him seven months to visit all 137 towns prior to his 2010 victory over incumbent Democratic Congressman Scott Murphy.
"I invested an enormous amount of time getting around and listening to people, getting to know folks, and obviously I've gotten to a point where I've internalized that," Gibson said.
Gibson said communities in the district have their own unique characteristics, but there are overarching commonalities that tie it together - things like tourism, agriculture and manufacturing.
While he'd like to see it stay the same, he understands it's not his call to make.
"It's one of those moments where you really have to invoke the serenity prayer," Gibson said. "Know the things you can change, the things you can't, have the wisdom to know the difference between the two, and just continue to move forward. What I'm focused on right now is serving."
A Gallup poll released in February shows Congress' approval rating at 10 percent, a historic low. Much of that is attributed to what is perceived as constant gridlock and partisan bickering.
But Gibson described himself as an optimist. He said he's a "glass is always five-sixths full" kind of person.
Gibson noted that the Constitution structured Congress such that governing requires compromise. Things revert to the status quo if lawmakers can't find common ground.
"You turn on the news today, it doesn't matter if you're watching Fox or if you're watching MSNBC, they're running down Washington and they're running down the country - why?" Gibson asked. "Well on Fox, they're running down the country because they want to kick out the president. And on MSNBC, they're running down the country because they want to kick out the House Republicans.
"To me, I don't find that helpful. We may disagree on 13 things. Let's find (those) seven things we agree on, and let's move forward from here."
Gibson said Congress has been able to find common ground. He cited a trade agreement with Colombia, a jobs bill that increases access to credit for small businesses and an extension of the payroll tax reduction.
When Gibson ran for office a year-and-a-half ago, one of his big talking points was the consolidation of federal agencies. He even called for major steps like putting the U.S. Department of Education back in with the Department of Health and Human Services. He praised the Obama administration for taking steps toward making federal agencies more effective with fewer costs.
Gibson said that since the education department was created more than three decades ago, the nation's educational system hasn't made significant improvements. On a local level, he said national standards don't always work because schools in Essex and Washington County are very different from schools in the Bronx or Buffalo.
Gibson said the country needs to place more of an emphasis on programs like those offered by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services. He said those programs have a direct impact on the economy because they feed trained workers into the manufacturing and construction sectors.
"We still need the world's best plumbers, steamfitters, welders, mechanics - we need all that," Gibson said, "even as we need the world's best engineers at nanotechnology. But we can't just be all one. We have to recognize the fact that we all come with our own unique characteristics, and we all have our own aspirations."
In the 20th District, Gibson said about 28 percent of people have a college degree, but he said the secondary school system pushes for everyone to go to college. He noted that his brother went through the BOCES program and now works as a mechanic.
"I thank God that we've got people like my brother, because where would I be if my car breaks down?" Gibson said. "We need to recognize that we've all got different qualities, things that we're good at. And we shouldn't say that if somebody has this degree, they're of more value to our economy and to our society than somebody who is helping make things with their hands."
During a press conference last week, President Barack Obama was grilled about ongoing violence in Syria. Asked how he would handle the situation, Gibson, a retired Army colonel, said he would urge caution.
"I have seen firsthand what happens in war," he said. "I can tell you that you can give a million descriptions of it, but at the end of the day ... you end up killing people and breaking things. You can call it any kind of effort you want, but you've got to recognize that it's a very serious decision, one that should only be undertaken after a long discussion, the American people's involvement and a vote in Congress. That's why I brought forward the War Powers Reform Act."
The War Powers Reform Act would amend the War Powers Resolution to keep the U.S. out of armed conflicts in the absence of a declaration of war, a specific statutory obligation due to a treaty, or a national emergency created by an attack or an imminent threat. Twenty-six members of the House have co-sponsored the bill that Gibson initiated.
Gibson said the U.S. can't focus on bouncing back from the economic recession and continue its involvement in a number of different wars at the same time. He said there are diplomatic steps to be taken with Syria.
"I think that we would be wise to really take a more humble approach when it comes to our interactions internationally," Gibson said. "Some people say that's not leading. I disagree. I think we lead with our ideas and our concepts. People want to be like us. And for as young a country that we are, we have the longest standing, stable constitution in the world right now."
When it comes to the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Gibson said he doesn't have a favorite in the field. He said Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul haven't resonated with him regarding his three goals as a lawmaker: growing the economy, balancing the budget and protecting America's way of life.
"I guess I have high expectations, but I haven't heard any of the candidates communicate what I think would be the best approach to move forward our country in the 21st century," Gibson said. "Now look, when it comes time, I'm sure that I'll be supporting our candidate, but I'm not at this point endorsing anyone."
So what about Gibson? Has he ever considered or been encouraged to run for president?
"I hear it, folks mention it, but I'm very focused on serving right here in the 20th Congressional District," he said. "I've term-limited myself; I'll serve not one more than eight years. I envision a time when I will be back in academia, when I'll be teaching and writing again.
"One of my tours in the Army, I taught at West Point. It was a great honor and a privilege. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't know if that means I'll teach at the high school level or at the college level."
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.