Conservatively Liberal: Kirsten Gillibrand's Political Identity Crisis

Pro-gay, pro-gun Kirsten Gillibrand is New York Gov. David Paterson’s choice to succeed Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate. Gillibrand seems to fit no convenient category, but the odds are that she will slide to the left over the next two years.

Gillibrand is from upstate New York and a member of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of about 50 fiscally conservative House Democrats, though the Blue Dogs — including Gillibrand — are often moderate to liberal on social issues, including abortion and gay rights. She grew up in Albany, N.Y., the daughter of a prominent state lobbyist, and graduated from Dartmouth UCLA’s law school before becoming a partner at litigation powerhouse Boies Schiller & Flexner, best known for representing Al Gore before the Supreme Court during the contested 2000 presidential election.

In 2006, she was first elected to the House by beating the Republican incumbent John Sweeney. She represents a rural district, the only district in New York where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, and is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.  She showed her fiscal conservatism by proposing middle class tax cuts, but she opposes privatizing Social Security.  She joined some of the most conservative Republicans in the House when she voted against the TARP bailout bill last fall, and she voted against releasing the second half of the bailout funds this past week.

Another issue that is causing discomfort among many Democrats is her pro-gun stance. The NRA has given her an “A” rating, and she states on her website that she “grew up in a hunting family and own[s] a gun…I believe every law-abiding citizen should always have the right to own arms.”

But other issues are causing conservatives concern.

Gillibrand is pro-choice and, according to National Right to Life legislative director Douglas Johnson, “She has not been in Congress long, but she has always voted against the pro-life side.”

In January 2007, she voted yes to expand research to more embryonic stem cells, and in February 2007, she voted yes to ensure access to funding for contraceptives.

Emily’s List is a liberal political action committee that supports and funds pro-choice women candidates.  The group’s website makes a point of congratulating Gillibrand and supporting her nomination.

Gillibrand has also taken a stance in supporting the homosexual agenda as well. In March of 2007, she voted in favor of reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment, and, in November, she voted yes on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Because of her mixed bag of stances on the issues, both Democrats and Republicans are wondering about the 2010 Senate elections. Conservatives want to know if she is beatable, Democrats are wondering if they should replace her with someone more along the party lines.

George Marlin, 1993 Conservative Party nominee for mayor of New York and former head of the New York Port Authority, said “I suspect as follows, she will not set well with the Democratic Party and will get a primary challenge in the next election.”

Mike Long, State Conservative Party Chairman of New York, echoed this, saying,
“She is pretty unknown in Long Island and New York” and that he believes she could even be beat by a Conservative in the next election cycle.

Long is also unsure of her stance on the issues she has run on. He believes that she has a “dual problem” because she appeals to both parties on certain issues and will have to “change her stripes to survive a Democratic primary.”

On Friday, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, John Faso, the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate for New York, and Sen. Betty Little were the Republicans who had officially entered the race for the Senate seat.

For the Democrats, Carol Schrager of Hunter, Green County announced her candidacy, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy said that, if no one challenges Gillibrand in 2010, she will run against her because of her pro-gun stance.

McCarthy’s husband was killed by a gunman on a Long Island train. She was reported in the Washington Post as saying, "She [Gillibrand] is the NRA’s poster child, and that does not represent New York State."

There has also been speculation that Congressman Peter King, U.S. Representative for New York’s 3rd District, will challenge her on the Republican ticket. Long said, “King could really give her a race. He has a high profile in New York and has run statewide.”

Only time will tell what will happen to challengers and supporters alike of now Senator Gillibrand. She will have a chance to show where she really stands on issues in the Senate. Long believes that “the real test will be in the Senate,” and he doubts “she will continue her conservative inclinations.”

Can Gillibrand do well enough to successfully defend Hillary’s seat in 2010? Or will she become thoroughly liberal when she’s serving in the Senate?  Based on her track record so far, she may be too conservative for liberals, but she certainly is no friend of the conservatives.