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Gingrich packs college chapel with divided crowd

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks to a packed Johnson Chapel at Amherst College Wednesday evening.
(Special to The Recorder/Sarah Ganzhorn)

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks to a packed Johnson Chapel at Amherst College Wednesday evening. (Special to The Recorder/Sarah Ganzhorn)

AMHERST — Many of the approximately 600 students in Johnson Chapel at Amherst College Wednesday night gave Republican Newt Gingrich a standing ovation when he approached the lecturn, 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.”

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