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Newt Gingrich talks government efficiency, energy independence at packed Amherst College hall



Monday, December 16, 2013
AMHERST — Many of the approximately 600 students in Johnson Chapel at Amherst College Wednesday night gave Newt Gingrich a standing ovation when he approached the podium, but not all of them.

The former Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and current co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” Gingrich spoke in the packed chapel at the invitation of the Amherst College Republicans, giving his views on topics ranging from the inefficiency of the federal government to the positive outlook for the country’s energy independence.

He answered questions from the audience for over an hour, sometimes eliciting applause for his remarks and twice disagreeing with students who challenged him on his stance on hydraulic fracturing and the Affordable Care Act.

Many in attendance were clearly fans — some left the event with signed posters and photos of Gingrich and even cellphone cases — and several students at the event remarked that they did not know he had so many supporters on the liberal-leaning campus.

“I didn’t expect such a great turnout for that reason,” said sophomore Pablo Morales. “But I think a lot of people are really interested in politics.”

Gingrich, who failed to get his party’s nomination to run for president in 2012, stuck to a fairly bipartisan script during his talk, focusing on the importance of harnessing new technology to improve education and health care and criticizing what he called a “remarkably incompetent” government and the over-regulation of industry and medicine.

On the topic of the budget deal Congress is expected to pass this week, Gingrich said it is absurd because it promises to spend more now and make cuts later and calls for more fees instead of raising taxes.

“It’s a tiny, pathetic deal in which we’re going to raise spending and raise taxes while claiming we’re not raising spending and not raising taxes,” he said.

Two students passionately read a statement asking Gingrich how he can support hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported it can poison groundwater.

They received cheers from some in the audience, but Gingrich also got a hand when, after attempting to cut in a few times, he told them that the wind energy industry they support means birds are killed by turbines. The student replied that water for people is more important than birds.

“I guess I came to Amherst to have someone explain to me that people are more important than birds,” he said, getting another laugh and more applause. “And what you said about fracking and groundwater is not true, period.”

When asked to compare his relationship with President Clinton while he was speaker of the house to that of President Barack Obama and speaker John Boehner, Gingrich said he and Clinton could work together because the former president genuinely likes people.

He recalled seeing Clinton giving friendly nods to people at a recent memorial service. “President Obama came in and sat basically looking towards the ceiling, as in a brief moment of being surrounded by mortals,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience.

“Boehner has a job 10 times harder than the job I did,” he said. “First of all, he has a Democratic Senate. I had a Republican Senate, but in addition, he has a president who has no inclination for negotiation.”

Brian Scagliarini came from Springfield to hear his hero speak and left with several signed items. “I was expecting him to be a teacher. That’s what he does best. He’s educating the public about these issues,” Scagliarini said. “It was very interesting to hear his vision of fracking and that it really isn’t as dangerous as some are led to believe.”

According to the college’s website, Gingrich’s speaking fee was paid with assistance from the conservative Young America’s Foundation, Republican groups at UMass and Smith College, college President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin’s office, the Amherst Association of Students and outside donors.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.