By LINDA KELLETT
For the Recorder
CANAJOHARIE -- Less than a week after taking his ceremonial oath of office, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, was making targeted stops across the recently reconfigured 19th Congressional District on Wednesday.
The purpose of his visits was to meet with governmental leaders in order to get an "awareness of what's happening" across his wide-ranging district, he said.
The 19th Congressional District now includes parts of Montgomery, Rensselaer, Dutchess, and Broome counties as well as all of Ulster, Sullivan, Schoharie, Otsego, Greene, Delaware and Columbia counties. That's 165 towns, he said.
In addition to a half-hour stop at the Canajoharie Middle School where Gibson met in the gymnasium with seventh and eighth grade students who asked questions ranging from his military service to his personal life, the second-term congressman joined local leaders at Lisa's Family Restaurant before heading to Fonda for a gathering with Montgomery County officials.
He rounded out his day with drop-ins with county officials from Schoharie and Rensselaer counties.
Among those present for the noon-hour meeting across from the Richardson Brands plant in Canajoharie were Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, town Supervisor Herb Allen, town Republican Committee Chairman Michael McMahon, who also serves as the commissioner of the Montgomery County Department of Social Services, and Canajoharie resident Peter Vrooman.
In addition to sharing his views on issues and a proposed agenda for the upcoming year, the member of the House Agriculture and Armed Services committees solicited input from those gathered.
He also informed them that he will be opening a full-time district office in Cooperstown for residents of the western Montgomery and Otsego counties areas he serves.
While it's still being established, he said the office will be located near the intersection of Main Street and Route 28, where a sign will be displayed.
Aides said furniture was being moved to that site today. They anticipate that it will be up and running by next week. A phone number was not yet available; however Gibson said constituent services are a major priority for him and encouraged residents to contact him.
Among services constituents are able to receive there include help with a federal agency like the Veterans or Social Security Administration, senior citizens' Medicare claims, service academy nominations or advice about federal funding for projects, he said.
Priorities that Gibson detailed for the coming year included a need to get an agreement on the deficit, an expansion of broadband in rural areas, and a more robust federal transportation/highway bill.
He said there's also a need for better treatments for Lyme Disease as well as advocacy for change in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that "don't recognize many of our constituents are long-time Lyme sufferers. The federal government doesn't even have a repository for information on experimental methods," he said.
He also said insurance companies claim the experimental treatments aren't within their coverage areas.
Gibson noted his staff is gearing up for work on the Farm Bill. "We got a one-year extension," he said, noting that he'd like to see a number of initiatives of benefit to small family farmers be included in the next farm bill. Those include farm-to-school initiatives, which will allow schools to get fresh locally grown food from growers; the Dairy Security Act; margin insurance; and insurance discounts, for example.
Gibson stressed the need for a new crop of farmers to replace the aging population of ag producers. "We want to draw future generations into farming," he said.
He also shared his views on ways to pay for renewable energy research, development and implementation: Gibson believes profitable oil producers should be allowed to do more gas exploration.
The country would pay for the renewable energy initiatives through increased taxes on the oil companies.
He's also excited by the development of an Otsego County-based company that's developing ultra-capacitors, which optimize energy storage.
With regard to the Armed Forces, Gibson would like to see the United States "flatten our intelligence organizations," which have grown since 9/11.
He also said NATO needs to assume more responsibility for the defense of Europe. "Bring our troops home. That'll allow us to pay down the deficit," he said.
Among the concerns of local officials was the disposition of Beech-Nut property in the village of Canajoharie and the need for assistance with infrastructure improvements such as costly local bridge replacements.
Gibson, who visited the area several times while campaigning, promised to return to western Montgomery County where he has been "well received."
Following his visit, restaurant patron Linda Scaffidi-Fonti, who owns Linda's Consignment Shop in Fort Plain, said, "I never met him before. He introduced himself and promised to come out to Fort Plain. He seems to be a very ambitious young man, and I look forward to working with him."
She noted that Fort Plain, like Canajoharie, is "holding its own... These small towns are what built America. You need small businesses."
Restaurant owner Lisa Penley and her cook, Kim Wieboldt, said they were both excited that Gibson came there for his meeting.
Penley said someone from the school called her and asked how she felt about having a congressman in the restaurant for lunch.
She said, "They asked if I'd have room. I said I'd make room."
She continued, "I felt it was an honor. I was excited. It's my first year in business. Of all the places in town, they picked [my] restaurant."