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Rep. Chris Gibson.
Rep. Chris Gibson.

Gibson fields questions at town hall gathering

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Following a tour of flood damage in Essex County last week, Rep. Chris Gibson from New York 20th Congressional District found a sliver of time to host a town hall-style meeting with constituents in Lake Placid. The forum drew a small crowd of elected officials, business leaders, and some taxpayers.

Gibson, a Republican from Kinderhook, focused primarily on jobs and the economy - but also offered praise for President Barack Obama's approach to the war in Afghanistan. He also called for a more comprehensive energy strategy and defended himself on a vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Chris Morris has our report.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Last week’s meeting wasn’t one of those rip-roaring town hall forums – the kind that has angry constituents confronting lawmakers on a whole host of issues.

That may have had something to do with the sobering aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene – something Gibson addressed during his opening remarks.

Gibson, a former Army colonel, told on lookers that the last time he witnessed such devastation was in Haiti, where a 2010 earthquake led to hundreds of thousands of lost lives.

“Our brigade was sent there to help and we did the very best we could under very challenging circumstances,” he said. “And I will tell you that what I have seen in the last 36 hours in some places in our district is a level of devastation that I haven’t seen since that time.”

Gibson has been hailed by his supporters as one of the more independent thinkers in Congress – in his opening remarks, he referenced a voting record touted as the fourth most independent in the House.

That record, Gibson says, is highlighted by his three primary goals as a lawmaker – job creation, deficit reduction, and protection of American freedoms.

And while those issues are fairly broad and far-reaching, Gibson did highlight some specifics in trying to prove his independence from party politics.

On energy, Gibson is calling for more domestic production of fossil fuels – but he also wants a greater focus on wind and solar power.

“When I was 12, I tried coffee and I hated it,” he said. “And now I can’t imagine life without it – that’s probably not a good thing, but the point is I acquired a taste for coffee. When I look at a windmill, I think that’s the new beautiful. That’s what I think we need to do – we need to acquire a taste for things that will help us make this transition.”

The conversation also hit on America’s wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

Raymond Bigelow of Lake Placid asked Gibson what he thought about reinstating the draft. “Everybody doesn’t have to be in the military, but they have to have some kind of national defense obligation for a year or two,” he said.

Gibson disagreed with reinstating the draft, but used the question to springboard into a discussion about President Obama’s war policies.

“I will tell you that I support what the president has done here, both in terms of why he surged and the fact that he’s drawn down,” he said.

According to Gibson, U.S. efforts in training Afghan security forces will lead to stability down the road – similar to how Egypt’s army helped keep the peace during recent upheavals there.

“My point is, that the Egyptian army was trying its best in an imperfect institution to serve the Egyptian people – what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan is to do that,” he said.

The meeting’s only tense moment came when a Saranac Lake man, Rich Shapiro, questioned Gibson over a vote earlier this year to defund Planned Parenthood.

Shapiro told Gibson that Planned Parenthood is one of the more effective outlets for providing health care to women across the North Country.

“I’m wondering how you can reconcile defunding Planned Parenthood with your goal of providing cost-effective health care across the country?” he asked.

In his response, Gibson said public funds shouldn’t be used for abortions – something Shapiro said isn’t true.

“But there isn’t any – the money that the government provides to Planned Parenthood does not go to fund abortion. 97 percent of the work Planned Parenthood does is not abortion.”

Despite a busy schedule which included more tours of flood ravaged communities, Gibson spent well over an hour with constituents during last week’s town hall.

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