Saland challenger: 32 years is enough
Published: August 1, 2011
Hudson Valley Democrat Terry Gipson says the National Organization for Marriage’s efforts to unseat longtime incumbent Republican Sen. Stephen Saland will not play a role in his campaign to win in the 41st Senate District next year.
Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, is among seven state lawmakers who have been targeted by the group, which claims it will spend $2 million to oust Senators “betrayed voters” by voting in favor of same-sex marriage legislation.
“I plan to be the one to affect Saland’s chances — not that issue,” said Gipson, who supports marriage equality.
A Rhinebeck Village Board member and small business owner, Gipson, who stepped onto the campaign trail some 18 months before the fall 2012 elections, says as a state senator he would set his sights on strengthening ethics reform, banning hydraulic fracturing and overhauling the state’s education system to spur job creation.
Gipson became involved with the Rhinebeck Democratic Committee when he moved to the village in 2007 to run his design firm, Gipson Design Group Inc., with his wife, Michelle. Two years later, he was elected to serve on the Village Board, an experience he says made him turn his sights on Albany.
“I’m a community-minded person,” he said. “I believe it’s our civic duty to try to get involved and make a difference. It became clear there were lots of things I wanted to be a part of and improve.”
Gipson says the fracking report released by the Department of Environmental Conservation last month concerns him because it recommends a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing only in the Syracuse and New York City watersheds. The Marcellus Shale formation borders Columbia and Dutchess counties, which make up the 41st District.
“Why in the world would they think they should be able to do it anywhere?” asked Gipson. “What that says to me is those other areas aren’t as important; they’ll take a little risk there. I don’t get that.”
“Saland supported hydrofracking,” he added. “That says a lot about what his priorities are.”
No amount of money or jobs brought in by the hydrofracking industry is worth the possible contamination of water by chemicals used during the hydrofracking process, Gipson contends. “We can find other ways to get people employed,” he said.
Critical of Saland and other lawmakers who are elected year after year to the Legislature, Gipson said he hopes to push the concept of term limits in state government, which are now nonexistent. Saland has served in the Legislature since 1980, first as a member of the Assembly before being elected to the Senate for the first time in 1990.
“Thirty-two years. Do you want to give him two more?” asked Gipson. “It’s not humanly possible to be in office that long and stay in touch. You get comfortable.”
“The issue is that he’s been in Albany since Jimmy Carter was president,” he said. “That’s the issue. He’s had his time.”
Raised in rural Tyler, Texas, the Senate hopeful says his parents, who worked on farms all their lives, instilled in him a strong work ethic. Since the age of 12, when he was employed as a dishwasher at a local steakhouse, Gipson says he has worked to support himself through college and learned the importance of being aggressive in the job market.
Gipson earned degrees in theater arts — a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Texas Tech in 1987 and a Master of Fine Arts from Penn State in 1991. In 1994, he moved to White Plains and became involved in community programs such as the volunteer fire department, where he became president of a fire company.
“I had a strong, ethical upbringing that has required me to work for every single penny I’ve ever had,” said Gipson. “Nothing has ever been given to me. I don’t expect this election to be given to me. I’m going to earn it.”
He commuted to Manhattan to work as a design director for MTV Networks and as a designer for Rockwell Architecture, where he designed the interior of theatrically themed restaurants. In 2006, Gipson and his wife opened their own design firm, Gipson Design Group Inc. The aspiring politician says his 20 years of experience in creative fields have given him the ability to solve complex problems with inventive solutions.
“I have that business and management experience — skills as a small business owner — I plan to take to Albany and utilize,” he said.
He proposed that in addition to existing tax incentives offered to businesses that come to New York, the state should offer incentives for businesses to hire local workers. This combination, he said, would work to create jobs along with a realignment in the school systems to focus more on science and technology — fields he says will make young students more competitive when the enter the job market. As a senator, Gipson said, he would work with leaders in the education system to make this happen.
“Saying ‘Good luck, see you later’ (to students) isn’t going to work anymore,” he said, adding that Saland, who was a longtime chair of the Senate Education Committee, has inspired little change.
He says he hopes this reform will bring more independence to the middle class, which he says is rapidly disappearing.
“It’s a really scary time to be a part of the middle class,” said Gipson. “We’re not making the same advances as our parents and grandparents.”
Gipson said the senior citizens he has spoken with while campaigning tell him they have had to become involved in their children’s financial lives to a degree their own parents never had to. These senior citizens are now full-time babysitters for their grandchildren, have had to let their children move back into their homes and are working work part-time jobs because they need the money.
“I’ve worked hard all my life,” said Gipson. “I’ve saved and led a frugal life, but it seems like our nest egg is being cut into.”
According to Gipson, another change he would like to implement in Albany is strengthening the just-passed ethics reform rules. To him, the bill passed in June is just a beginning. Under this legislation, effective in June next year, legislators will have to report any work for clients for which they or their firms receive more than $10,000.
“All clients should be disclosed. Period. No matter how much they pay, no matter what they do,” said Gipson.
Also unethical, according to the Senate hopeful, is the possibility of lawmakers drawing their own district lines. He favors the decennial redistricting process being performed independently of legislators and suggests an independent council made up of community members from each party should have this task.
According to Gipson, all of the major Democratic committees in his district have met with him and offered encouragement, but no official endorsement will be made until next spring.
Since the start of his campaign three months ago, Gipson says he has attended more than 70 events in the 41st District and, before the end of the year, he hopes to go to 150 more.
“And the great thing is, I’ll be at all those events again next year,” he said.
More information about Terry Gipson and his campaign is available at terrygipsonny.com.
Three attempts to reach Saland for this story were not returned.
Saland, who currently serves as the vice chair of the Senate majority conference has written 350 laws during his tenure in the Legislature covering such areas as criminal justice and victims’ rights, and economic development and environmental protection.
A former Wappinger town councilman, Saland maintains a law practice in Poughkeepsie, where he is of counsel to Gellert & Klein P.C.
He and his wife reside in the town of Poughkeepsie and have four sons and four grandchildren.