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Alan Chartock: An honorable politician — and academic

Chris Gibson did not burn any bridges as he moved from the world of politics into academia. But unlike so many denizens of the congressional deep, his honor is intact.

What does a senator or member of Congress do once they leave office? Some stay in Washington and open up lucrative lobbying practices. That is why, when the Republicans leave the Congress knowing full well that Trump is destroying the Constitution, they still don’t have the guts to call him out for his transgressions. There may be one or two who mutter something, but they know that if they want to make it as a lobbyist, they had better not alienate the bullying, threatening, probably mentally ill Donald Trump. So with money on their minds, they slink away into the night.

Once elected, they soon understand how the system works. That’s why the idea of term limits is so repulsive to them. During the whole impeachment process, were they really not aware that Trump violated his oath — the one he swore on a Bible — when he asked for a “favor” from the president of Ukraine that involved investigating political rival Joe Biden? As Trump has suggested, the system is rigged, but it is rigged in his favor.

That is why former Congressman Chris Gibson is such an extraordinary person. Years ago, he said that he would run for two terms and he clearly meant it. He would have been reelected again and again but he didn’t like the idea. True to his word, he got out and retired from the House. He found himself a respectable, honorable position on the Williams College faculty. Let’s remember that Gibson was a soldier who saw combat and led a lot of men and women in very difficult situations. He is married to one of the finest women I have ever known, who just happens to serve on the WAMC Pubic Radio Community Advisory Board. When he was in the House, I just couldn’t stop interviewing him because he had the guts to take an honest view of events unfolding around him.

Now, Siena College has appointed Chris Gibson to be its new president, which is no small honor. First of all, Siena is a serious, wonderful institution that has always been headed by a Catholic friar. Like every other educational institution, Siena College needs whatever fiscal help it can get. I doubt that this highly respected political and now academic figure will be turned away when he seeks funding from the major institutions that give out money. The fact that he is a Republican won’t hurt in some of those quarters, either.

When he parked at Williams College, I was curious about what might come next. When Williams lays hands on you, there can be no question that you are being certified by one of the elite institutions in America.

Chris Gibson did not burn any bridges as he moved from the world of politics into academia. But unlike so many denizens of the congressional deep, his honor is intact. At 55, Chris Gibson is still a very young man by American standards. As the first non-friar to preside over Siena, he’ll be on trial, but anyone who has watched Gibson over the years will have no reason to believe that he won’t succeed. I know from my many conversations with him that he was interested in running for governor of New York, but I have very good reasons to believe that the Republican big shots he visited frowned at his nomination by that party. The fact is we are very lucky that he didn’t get that nomination in blue state New York, where he would have had a hard time winning — although this man with two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. would have automatically been a prime candidate for president had he succeeded.

After Trump is done, America will be looking for honorable Republicans. Mark my words: Chris Gibson is not through with leadership.


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