Back in January, Kerry Gibson resigned as commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to start a bid to replace retiring Rep. Rob Bishop in Utah’s 1st Congressional District.
A native of Weber County, Gibson was raised on a fifth-generation family dairy farm. After graduating from Utah State University, Gibson went on to own and operate several small businesses.
“I can put my hand into the wind and I know that I don’t buckle under the pressure,” Gibson said after describing himself as a strong fiscal and social conservative who believes in limited federal government and local management of land and resources.
This week, The Herald Journal sat down with Gibson to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on his campaign and the district he hopes to represent in D.C. as well as his priorities if he makes it there.
Q: What have you learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: I’m reminded of a quote from Mike Tyson which is something to the effect of, “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the nose.” This event certainly changed our plans, changed our reality, it’s affected our families and our livelihoods and some of the very systems that keep us functioning as a society, including our food distribution system and everything around it.
It’s a real challenge to figure out how to both design and implement the plan B. As a business owner and farmer all my life, I’ve always known that you can’t be successful without having a plan B, and frankly knowing how to be nimble and adapt to the changes around you. So within this campaign, just like anything else, we have had to adjust our way of thinking.
I am the type of person that loves to look someone in the eye and to be in a group of people and shake their hand and build that rapport that comes from that personal one-on-one connection, and so I would much rather do that.
However, that’s not a possibility right now and so we have to adapt and be prepared and aware and make the best of what we have and the technology that is available to us. It is a wonderful time that we live in, a time when we can still, even though we’re isolated, we can still communicate with one another fairly effectively even though it’s maybe not just in the way that we would like it to be.
So, on one hand it has been very painful and it will continue to be for a long time. On the other hand I think there’s been some blessings and opportunities that have come from it. We’ve learned to adapt and be strong in a different way.
Q: How has it affected your campaign?
A: We’ve been doing Zoom meetings and tele-town halls and Facebook Live events and it’s been really, really good and frankly we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the turnout. I mean, we were thinking that people may not be as involved as they would be under the old system, but at the end of the day, people have time right now and they’re looking for opportunities to connect in some way or another. It’s important because even though COVID-19 is really consuming our thoughts right now, at the end of the day, the election is still important.
Hopefully we can get back to some sense of normalcy with this world that we’re in right now. We are going to be dealing with the effects of the election for many years to come and so we can’t put it out of our mind. We have to be engaged and be aware that the election will have consequences
Q: The race for the First Congressional District has a crowded field. What makes you stand apart from the other candidates?
A: There are some tremendously good people in the race. I knew most of them beforehand and I’ve come to know most of them at this point in the race, and we’re blessed to have so many people seeking office in the state of Utah. It’s a good thing but I do feel like there are some things that set me apart, and it’s mostly related to my background and experience on the issues.
I think when you choose who you might want to send to Congress, you ought to consider it as a job interview. And you want to try and hire the most qualified individual, the person who can make the most difference based upon their experience and background.
In this case, the reason that I’m running is that I have the qualifications that will help me to be successful on day one. I’m the only candidate in the race that has legislative experience at all. None of the other candidates have served in a legislative body of any kind. Legislative service is difficult. There are a lot of land mines, a lot of traps, and you need to be able to understand how to navigate through that process.
I’ve been successful with that and have … a conservative track record to show what I believe in and what I will do under pressure. People can say over and over again what they might do in a certain circumstance, but isn’t it wonderful when we can actually show through experience what we have done in times of crisis or what we believe in terms of a certain issue based on what we’ve done and what we’ve actually accomplished instead of just what we might say that we might do.
I think local government experience is important as well. I served as a member of the Weber County Commission and through that served as the president of the Utah Association of Counties. I have had the opportunity to understand all kinds of county governments. To be able to understand and recognize those differences and help them to understand each other and how they function in times of crisis and challenge has been a wonderful experience. Being an advocate for local government and state government prepares me to be a good congressman.
There are times when those local governments will need help and there are also times when the best thing we can do to help them is to get the heck out of their way and let them function.
On top of that, I don’t want anybody in office that doesn’t have experience or knowledge of small businesses. Having owned and operated several small businesses in my family over the years, I think it is a tremendous base when you have to understand how the economy truly works. How to make payroll during the crisis just like this and how to navigate the challenges that everyday Americans face. If we really want to make a difference in our community and in the job situation with our state we have to understand how a small business functions and be able to be a good partner with them.
Q: If elected, which conversations or issues can the constituents expect you to spearhead when you are in Washington?
A: Having been a farmer all my life, agriculture matters to me. And frankly, being the top cheerleader in the state as the agriculture commissioner was a tremendous opportunity for me because unfortunately people don’t understand those issues very well because agriculture has been so good at what they do. What I mean by that is that most consumers can go to the grocery store and never worry about whether or not their food is going to be there, whether it’s going to be safe and whether it’s going to be affordable. But it’s not by accident.
Unfortunately the dialogue in Washington D.C. has not focused on food or food production or food distribution for a long time. At some point, that has to become more of a topic of discussion among their constituents and among our government officials because something as important as agriculture cannot be taken for granted forever. If we do, we risk tremendously damaging the system to a point that it may not be able to recover.
Agriculture is in a real crisis right now with this whole COVID-19 on top of the challenges that they’ve always had. It is really heartwrenching to see the milk from dairy farms all across the country is being dumped right now because you can’t shut off the spigot of a dairy cow.
About 42% of dairy products are distributed in this country through a restaurant or a school system, all of which are shut down right now. Well, the supply can’t be adjusted quickly. And once those dairy farms in Cache Valley are out of business, they’re not coming back. It’s not something that can just change overnight. And so it’s important for us to figure out how we might be able to participate in helping to make them successful because they have a cultural value and a community value but maybe even more important is the overall value of security.
When a community or a state or a nation can no longer produce their own food supply it becomes a major security issue. An issue that is more important than any other national security that we can have. More important than being dependent on foreign oil or anything else. If we can’t produce our food and fiber we can’t really be successful. So it’s got to be talked about more and discussed.
Another issue that matters tremendously to our economy is Hill Air Force Base. It is not just a Davis or Weber County thing. It affects our entire state and our entire district. In fact, Hill Air Force Base is the largest single employer in our state, with over 25,000 employees. But that really is a drop in the bucket when you consider the overall economic strength or economic activity in our community. There are large and small companies that are affiliated with the base in one way or another.
I don’t know what our economy in this district would look like without Hill Air Force Base and the surrounding infrastructure. Some people will complain when they hear an F-35 buzz their house and everything starts to shake a little bit. And honestly, I stand and put my hand over my heart and thank the Lord for the sound of freedom that just flew over and reminded me of brave men and women who serve us and keep us safe from enemies. We have to have somebody in Congress who can be a fighter for our community.