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Cuomo challenger kicks off early campaign

Anthony Tassarotti, WMHT

A New York Congressman recently announced that he’s taken the first steps toward running for governor in 2018. Chris Gibson, a Republican, would likely face Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s already said he wants to seek a third term.

Chris Gibson lives in a two story Victorian house on the Main Street in Kinderhook, with his wife and three children. It’s a village near the Massachusetts border where he grew up. Gibson, a Republican in a state that is heavily Democratic, says he needs to start extra early because the incumbent Governor Cuomo has a big head start.

“Governor Cuomo of course, has already started, and is, quite candidly, far ahead,” said Gibson. “He has raised over $16 million for his re-election. And it’s in his war chest.”

Gibson thinks it will cost $50 million for him to run a credible campaign, just to get his message out in the modern media environment.

“We are going to work really hard to get to know people, and to listen,” said Gibson, who says he wants to bring a “whole new leadership” to Albany.

“One that is collaborative, one that is inspirational, one that is aspirational,” he said.

Gibson believes the state is not going in the right direction, and he blames Cuomo for it.  He cites the controversy over the Common Core learning standards and the governor’s feud with the teachers and their union,  disagreements that led to one fifth of students boycotting the standardized tests last year.

“This is a leader who has demonized teachers,” said Gibson. “He has picked a fight and bullied the mayor of New York City.”

Gibson, a 51 year old retired Army Colonel who also holds a Ph D in government from Cornell, is a bit of a policy wonk. He says the state’s highest in the nation property taxes are holding back the economy, and is  proposing that the state take over the cost of Medicaid from the counties, and he’s happy to talk about it in great detail .

“55 percent of the county tax levy comes from Medicaid ,” said Gibson. “We’re the only state in the nation that does this. It’s not fair.”

He also is dismayed that the governor and legislature have so far done nothing this year to further clean up the Capitol, even after both legislative leaders were convicted on  multiple corruption charges and face long prison terms.  Gibson says he’s for term limits, and if elected Governor would impose a two term limit on  himself first.

He also wants to close a loophole in the campaign finance laws that allows corporations to use Limited Liability Companies to circumvent donation limits. But he says he’s still accepting LLC money for his exploratory campaign. He says he’ll only give up that money if the current governor does it, too.

“If he self imposes closing the LLC loophole, I will too,” Gibson said. “But what I can’t do is unilaterally disarm.” 

Democrats out number Republicans two to one in New York  and there are 400,000 more Democrats now in New York than the last time a Republican won the governorship, in 2002 when George Pataki was elected to a third term. But Gibson, who is one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress, says he has won twice in his sprawling Congressional district, which has more Democrats than Republicans and that has allowed him to be less partisan.

On social hot button issues like abortion rights and gay marriage, Gibson says the two are “settled” already and he would not change a woman’s right to choose or the right to same sex marriage. He would like to repeal parts of the Governor Cuomo’s gun control package known as the SAFE Act. He believes that humans have contributed to climate change and has introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives that says that.

Governor Cuomo , who has already said he’d like to stay in office as long as people will have him,  had little to say about his potential opponent filing papers for an exploratory campaign .

“That’s their businesses,” Cuomo said. “Whatever they do, they do.”

Around half of voters like Cuomo, according to polls, but his job approval rating has been below 40 percent for nearly a year now.

Gibson’s hometown of Kinderhook has had other residents with bigger political  ambitions.  It’s also the home of Martin Van Buren, the 8th  President of the United States. Gibson says he’s making no comparisons.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.