Kirsten Gillibrand is my Congresswoman. And it seems that she is poised to become my next Senator from New York, which will no doubt make many progressives nervous, if you look at her on paper alone.
But those scorecards don't tell the whole story, and when you look at those scorecards and how she fares on the Democratic Purity Testing Scale, you would do well to remember one very important thing:
Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democrat representing a Conservative Republican district.
It's a district that she has won twice. The first time she won it with a bit of a nudge of Republican Frat Boy extraodinaire, John Sweeney. But the second time she won it, she was the number one target of the NRCC, she ran against a self-funder who spent $7 million of his own money, against the $5 million she raised, and though he ran one of the slickest and most D.C.-type top level consultant expensive campaigns I have seen, she still beat him.
She beat him comfortably.
Below the fold I will tell you what I know about her, how I know it, and how this committed Democrat beat back two different Republicans in a conservative Republican district.
I know Kirsten Gilllibrand from her professional life, not her personal life.
If those scorecards were all there was to Kirsten Gillibrand, I wouldn't have volunteered and donated to her campaign the first time, and the phone-banked and door-knocked myself into laryngitis during her reelection campaign.
I had never met her until I got up to speak at one of her first "Congress At Your Corner" events in my town. This new freshman Congresswoman was determined to bring the office of Congress to the people she served.
Only one problem. Earlier that day, after voting against funding for the Iraq War four different times, she voted to fund the war for another half a Friedman Unit. My new Congresswoman that I had worked to get elected, and had promised to work to end the war in Iraq, had just voted to fund the war.
I was pissed, and she was coming to my neighborhood, and she was going to get an earful.
Apparently, I was not the only one. About two hundred people showed up at a meeting that was ostensibly to discuss rolling back NCLB. But when folks got up to speak at the mike, NCLB was left on the virtual chalkboard.
I was one of the first to speak, and I came armed with all of my facts and information. I angrily spoke for almost ten minutes, with stops for burst of applause and yelling at the Congresswoman from the crowd. It was not a pretty night, and you could see the aides beginning to look a bit nervous.
At last, I simply asked with frustration and despair, "You were sent to Congress to end the war in Iraq. How could you?"
She didn't duck the question. She didn't double speak. She took a deep breath, and when she spoke, she spoke with something very rare to find in politics nowadays--she spoke the truth from her heart. It had been so long since I had heard a politican do that, let alone on such a volatile issue, I almost didn't recognize it when I heard it, but there it was. Her voice, though soft, was resonant with conviction and emotion.
She said that being on the Armed Services committee, she couldn't vote to completely defund the war. She said she simply couldn't do it because she didn't think it was the right way or the best way to proceed for the people in the Armed Forces. She said that she felt three months funding with a short leash, and the added pressure of the Defense Department having to continually to come to Congress and to do so in public and to have to defend themselves constantly, would prove to be the beginning of the end of the war.
It wasn't an answer I liked. And it wasn't the answer I wanted to hear, but I know I was getting three things from a politician that are in short supply: I was getting direct access to my elected representative, I was getting accountability, and I was hearing a truthful answer.
It wouldn't be the last time I asked her a tough question in a room full of people and demanded an explanation (I'd like to say requested, but that wouldn't be true--when it comes to my elected officials, I tend to demand). She doesn't run away from her angry constituents, she runs to them.
She holds "Congress on Your Corner" meetings all over her district all the time. This may sound commonplace, except that our district includes part of ten different counties in New York. That's quite a bit of road time.
Kirsten Gillibrand not only shows up to do her job in Washington, she comes to wherever you live in her district so you can come and complain to her in person.
Are you mad at her vote on something? Great-- you get to tell her, face-to-face, and she takes it, and she explains her vote to you. Personally. With no political crapspeak. And you know why she shows up and takes whatever hard time I, or any other person in her district, give her that day about her latest vote I don't like? Because she believes that's part of her job. And she believes that it's an important part of her job. And she says so. And when she comes to town, she brings her staff with her and they are there to help you with whatever constituent services you may need, right then, right there, no waiting.
She doesn't run away from her angry constituents, she runs to them.
Her accessibility is only one reason why she won reelection strongly.
She also won because she provided the best, most effective constiutent services I have EVER seen in twenty or so years in politics.
She made her office about the people she represents.
She is also the most transparent office holder I know of. Her schedule is online all of the time, so anyone can look at any time and see any lobbyists, or anyone else she meets with. She puts all of her "pork" requests and "pork" received on line. All of her votes on everything are online. All of her work is easy to track, navigate, and user-friendly.
Her whole operation is user friendly.
Imagine if all members of Congress with this user friendly to the people they represent.
I guarantee that you will not love all love of her votes as a Congresswoman, God knows I don't, but that is the reality of the district she represents. And she represents the views of the people in her district well, because that is also part of her job.
But Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand not only understands the district she represents, she also knows with leadership, she could, and was, helping to turn this district into Moderate Democratic from Conservative Republicans. And the folks who judge her Democratic Purity would do well to remember that this is a REPUBLICAN DISTRICT. Get that? She is a Democrat who is representing a conservative Republican District.
If she is to become our Senator, I strongly believe that she will move to the left, as she will know that she now represents a different constituency of people. If you are looking for signals about where she might fall in terms of Democratic philosophy, I would encourage folks to look to who she supported in her primary choice last year: Hillary Clinton. It's my experience in speaking with her that her political views are in very much in line with Hillary Clinton's views. Her committee experience in Congress would dovetail nicely with what Senator Clinton's committee assignments, and that would also serve New Yorkers well. Personally, [in terms of her political warmth] she reminds me of a younger version of Claire McCaskill.
And when she takes her considerable natural political talents and runs for this Senate office in two short years, she will more than likely have the financial and political backing of the Clinton political machine behind her, having had a longstanding relationship with the Clintons.
And the final thing I know for certain about Kirsten Gillibrand: New York will be getting a fine new Senator, but we here in the district are losing a damn good member of Congress and one that will not be easily replaced.
Disclaimer: I have none. I volunteered for her campaign, and so did my seven year old son and my husband. I have no professional or personal ties to Kirsten Gillibrand in any way, shape or form, nor do I plan to. Also, I am posting and running out the door, so I will answer any questions when I get back in at about noon. Thanks.
UPDATE: Big Time Cynic in the comments adds this interesting insight:
I am an Albany native, and most of the hysteria here is generated by people who either don't live in Upstate, or don't live in NY at all. I find it very interesting that virtually every single person with prior knowledge of or experience with Gillibrand has a positive impression of her (me included). That should speak volumes to how she would fare in an election.
Also keep in mind that the general election could very well come down to her vs. Giuliani. She would win, and many of her sinfully "conservative" views would be part of the reason for her easy victory.
The one thing that does bother me most is her NRA approval. Most Upstaters hate the NRA and recognize them as the ideological crackpots that they are. Gillibrand could easily support responsible firearm ownership and get the approval of sportsman associations, while shunning the absurd NRA love of assault rifles, cop killer bullets, and handguns with fingerprint resistant hand grips. What we need in this country is a national politicial equivalent to the NRA that supports responsible gun policies for hunting, sport, and home defense.
That would give Dems some serious cover.
Update 2: Also, I would ask people to make a note how many self-described progressive democrats who live in her district who have posted on this thread ad the overwheming support and approval they give her. I think that also provides some valuable insight into a district with some unusual tics to it, both politically and geographically.