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Rep. Chris Gibson (NCPR file photo)
Rep. Chris Gibson (NCPR file photo)

Rep. Gibson stakes out a centrist approach in Washington

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Congressman Chris Gibson from Kinderhook was elected last November as part of the Republican wave that swept the US.

He had strong backing from tea party groups in New York's 20th House district.

As part of the new GOP majority, he has already voted to repeal President Obama's health care reform law.

But at this first town hall meeting in the North Country last week, Gibson sounded a bipartisan and centrist tone. Brian Mann reports from Glens Falls.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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These days, when Republicans give history lectures about the Founding Fathers, it’s usually in support of things like state’s rights or limiting the power of the Federal government.

But when Chris Gibson described his view of history Thursday night at Adirondack Community College, he said the lesson he took from the Founders was that compromise is hardwired into our political system.

“There are some who say, ‘No compromise!’  That’s not my view of history,” he said.

Gibson laid out an argument that his job in Washington is to push for civil discourse and for a negotiated approach to solving the country’s problems.

“The bipartisan work must happen,” he insisted.  “And as the president said in his State of the Union address, if we choose not to agree, then nothing will get done.”

Throughout the evening, Gibson nodded again and again to Barack Obama, suggesting that he thinks this Democratic president is someone he can work with.

If there’s such a thing as red meat for centrists and moderates, Gibson offered it up again and again during this townhall meeting.

Here he is offering a no-holds-barred defense of Social Security.

“I think this is a good program,” he said.  “This has worked well for us.  We’ve had it since 1935.  It’s something that you pay into it all your life.  And then in the autumn of your life, it’s something to look forward as part of your retirement plan.  I don’t want to see us do away with it.  And some would say, what about privatization?  But here’s the issue.  What it does is it leaves, I think it leaves our elderly vulnerable to the Madoffs of the world.”

Chris Gibson is clearly no liberal.  During this meeting he pushed for deep cuts in Federal spending, he opposed new taxes, and he defended his vote to roll back the Democratic healthcare plan.

But when he laid out his own idea for where the government could be cut, it wasn’t the Education Department or the EPA – prime targets for conservatives.  Gibson said he would start with the Department of Homeland Security.

"Remember I told you both parties got us into this mess?  This was a Republican administration.  We created the Department of Homeland Security [after 9/11] and I think we actually confused the situation," he argued.

Gibson also called for significant cuts to the Department of Defense.

Some in the crowd like Jake Nabotka from Queensbury, seemed thrilled with Gibson’s approach.

"I must say I’m very pleased with how bipartisan you’ve been tonight.  I gotta say.  I really like seeing that.  I hate the bitter bipartisanship," he said.

But others seemed hungry for the kind of fierce rhetoric that defined last year’s campaign. 

One man, who didn’t give his name, accused President Obama of being soft on Muslim terrorists operating in the US and asked whether Congressman Gibson shared his outrage.

“I mean what does he turn a blind eye, when I say he, I mean Mr. Obama, President Obama, turns a blind eye to that situation?  To the Muslim terrorists that are trying to inflict pain on Americans?  I’ve had enough of it.  I’ve had enough of it!  And that’s why I’m here!  And I think I speak for millions of people that are dissatisfied with this present administration.”

But Congressman Gibson offered no criticism of President Obama’s handling of the war on terror.  Indeed, during this talk, Gibson returned again and again to the idea that he can work with this President.

 “The President also said in his State of the Union address, he talked about that he was open to tax reforms that could eventually adjust rates,” Gibson noted. 

Gibson acknowledged that many in his conservative base don’t trust this President.  But Gibson – a former career Army officer – described himself as an “eternal optimist.” 

And with power in Washington now divided between Democrats and Republicans, he pointed out that change is only possible through bipartisan compromise.

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