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Pushed Too Far

Local activists and concerned citizens swarm Republican Congressman Chris Gibson’s office to demand an end to the government shutdown

by Erin Pihlaja on October 17, 2013


The U.S. Senate proposed a deal on Wednesday (Oct. 16) to end a political stalemate that is going into its third week. The bipartisan deal, constructed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is the last possible legislative solution to keep the United States from going into default before the U.S. Treasury runs out of money to pay government bills on Thursday.

But even if Speaker John Boehner can pass a bill through the House to halt a default, save the country’s AAA credit rating, and fund government programs in time to reach Obama’s desk before the Thursday deadline, public polls indicate that the perception of Republicans has soured drastically since the government shutdown, and those effects may having lasting consequences.

“Stop the GOP madness,” and “Do your job,” shouted a group of protestors as they marched to the door of Republican Congressman Chris Gibson’s Kinderhook office on Tuesday (Oct. 15). The group of concerned citizens, MoveOn.org members, Citizen Action of NY organizers, and others then walked inside the office to rip up an oversized check in the amount of $174,000 that represented Gibson’s congressional yearly salary.

“I think there’s real resolution in the country to stop these guys in Washington that have really run amok and basically are a bunch of petty tyrants holding us all hostage,” said Betty Head, a MoveOn.org organizer from Albany. “They’re heady with their power and they really have to be stopped. We put them there to do a job and they are not doing their job, and we really have to hold their feet to the fire and hold them accountable in November.”

“The GOP, you and your ilk are domestic terrorists, you’re going to bring the economy of our nation to a crashing halt,” said rally organizer Susan Weber. “You are holding America hostage, you terrorists.”

“They are failing us,” said Landra Haber of Chatham. “They need to stop this shutdown. Chris Gibson can do it, but maybe he’s worried about a primary. I think he needs to be worried about us.”

Haber said that she is worried about the possibility of her social security benefits being affected and that she has a son who depends on veteran’s benefits. “My son is in college on the GI bill. If it goes on any longer he won’t have his living stipend, and if it goes on any longer than that, he doesn’t know what will happen next semester. He served nine years in the marines, I think he deserves better than that.”

Gibson serves the 19th Congressional District of New York state, and served the 20th District prior to redistricting. Counties in the district include: Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Greene, Rensselaer, Broome, Oswego, Schoharie, and Montgomery. The Kinderhook office is one of six in the large district, although not all of them are currently open.

“Three of our six offices are closed, and half of our district staff is furloughed currently,” Steve Bulger, Gibson’s district director, said to a protestor who inquired as to when her written complaint would be addressed.

“We have thousands of them, we answer them we can,” Bulger continued. “Right now we’re shorthanded. We have thousands of people e-mailing us, and calling us, so we’re behind on everything.”

Knowing that even Gibson’s district offices had been affected by the shutdown didn’t necessarily console those who were there to express their frustration.

“Right here in front of you is someone [the government shutdown] affects,” said Spee Braun, a consultant for the organization Save the Children, “but it’s really about that teeny percentage of the federal government that goes to international relief and development. Right now I’m working on a project to reduce malnutrition and improve the food security for millions of people around the world and many countries.”

She said that the federal offices that the organization does most of its work through have been shut down. “We needed to get approval for one of the things we’re doing internationally, and they can’t answer their e-mail, they are forbidden from doing any work until the government shutdown is over.”

She also spoke of her support for the Affordable Care Act, which is at the core of the recent political battle in Washington. “I’ve been paying $16,000 to $20,000 a year for health care for my family, I am so thrilled with Obama Care and we can not let it get creamed.”

“The Affordable Care Act is law, it passed the House, it passed the Senate already,” said Kat Fisher, the Hudson Valley organizer for Citizen Action of NY. “Now that it’s in place they’re trying to repeal it endlessly. We all have people in our lives and our families who need affordable health care and that’s what this is about.” She also urged the crowd to research Sean Eldridge, Gibson’s potential Democratic opponent in the 2014 election.

She said that had met him and found him to be likeable, but added, “Sean Eldridge is a nice guy but he needs to know that we’re going to hold him accountable and hold his feet to the fire too.”

In a phone interview, Eldridge responded to concerns that he would be able to do the job if elected. “I would point to my record,” he said and noted his work as a founder of Hudson River Ventures, an investment fund for small business, which he said had created “dozens of jobs.” He also pointed to his work with the Freedom to Marry campaign and with Planned Parenthood.

Eldridge also promised that his campaign will not be “accepting a single penny of corporate Super PAC money.”

“I’ve been very disappointed that Congressman Gibson has joined with John Boehner in voting for the government shutdown,” he said. “I’m disappointed that Gibson has sided with Boehner and his fellow Republicans instead of with middle-class families.” He referenced a recent study that reported that since 2010, the United State had lost “more than two million jobs because of dysfunction in Washington.” He added that “political brinkmanship” had to be “put to an end” and that “we need new leadership in Washington.”

Gibson’s camp did not respond to requests for comment.