Bob Gibbs is a hands-on guy who enjoys the tangible achievements of hard work, like rewiring light fixtures, installing plumbing and rehabbing a three-unit apartment building by himself.
He likes the freedom of driving for hours on an open road, as he did over Memorial Day break when he and his wife drove 3,600 miles round trip to visit his son in Wyoming.
The red tape and glacial pace of the legislative process in Washington irritate the two-term Republican congressman, a Bay Village native who spent three decades as a Holmes County hog farmer before becoming an Ohio legislator and a U.S. House of Representatives member.
"When we decided to do something in the private sector, we did it," says Gibbs, 59. "Here you have so much process, I think the process is broken."
The southern Ohio district that Gibbs served during his first term was dramatically altered last year during Ohio's redistricting process, and pushed into Northeast Ohio. Gibbs estimates his district consists of "about 75 percent new people," and says he's spending lots of time getting to know them.
"That's probably the best part about this job -- getting an opportunity to go out and meet people and see things that you wouldn't see otherwise," says Gibbs.
While his old district stretched south from Holmes County into Ross and Jackson counties, it now sweeps into parts of Medina and Lorain counties, going as far north as Avon. All of Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes and Knox counties are included, as are parts of Huron, Richland, Stark and Tuscarawas counties.
"I know he is dedicated to his constituents, but it makes no sense that he should represent Ross County one year and Lorain in the next," says U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic critic of the redistricting process who lives in Avon and is now one of Gibbs' constituents
A recent voting analysis by National Journal magazine ranked Brown among the U.S. Senate's most liberal members, and Gibbs as the third most conservative member of Ohio's House of Representatives delegation, behind Jim Jordan of Champaign County and Steve Chabot of the Cincinnati area. Because House speakers seldom vote, it didn't rate Ohio's John Boehner.
For Gibbs, his new district is a homecoming of sorts. He represented parts of it previously as a state legislator, and observes that Avon is just a few miles from his boyhood home in Bay Village. He now represents retired congressman Ralph Regula's home in Stark County, and recalls a 1983 trip to Washington where he visited Regula as part of an Ohio Farm Bureau delegation. A framed picture from that trip shows both him and Regula with brown hair. Regula long ago went gray and Gibbs now sports a snowy white mane.
"All those years in the farm bureau meeting with congressman Regula, and now he sat down in this chair a few times to meet with me," Gibbs laughs during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. "The roles are reversed."
To acquaint himself with its people and issues, Gibbs is visiting businesses and civic groups in the new parts of his district, and holding town hall and tele-townhall meetings.
"There's lots of times you see things in the district and you say to yourself, 'I didn't know we did that here,' says Gibbs.
Last week Gibbs was in Amherst to meet with a group of Lorain County officials, including Commissioner Tom Williams, where they discussed economic development issues, like bringing a new corporate headquarters to Lorain County and the potential for local steelmakers to supply pipes for an Alaskan oil pipeline.
Williams says he regularly discusses local projects with Gibbs' staffers and has found the congressman and his office to be helpful.
"He is a very down-to-earth person who is passionate about what he does, and is a very effective congressman," says Williams. "He has got to be the first person in history to grow up in Bay Village and become a pig farmer."
Roger Beckett, executive director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, says Gibbs opened an office in Ashland County after the district was reworked and has kept a high profile there. Gibbs even established an internship program in his office for students from the university.
"He makes himself very available to the people here in the county, which is very impressive, and it is impressive that he has remained so grounded even though he is such a longtime politician," says Beckett. "He has a commonsense perspective. He is plainspoken and he is honest and obviously very smart. It is refreshing to have conversations with him."
Much of Gibbs' Washington time is spent on transportation and agriculture issues because he serves on those committees. He opposed the farm bill draft approved by the House Agriculture Committee because he felt its dairy and commodities programs would increase farmers' dependence on government subsidies.
He likes that the bill would cut food stamp spending, and would exempt farmers' names, email addresses and phone numbers from public records requests. Gibbs said the EPA improperly gave farmers' private information to environmental groups, and some farmers worry they will be harassed. He says he hopes the bill will be improved on the House of Representatives floor.
Gibbs chairs a transportation subcommittee that's drafting a new version of the Water Resources and Development Act. Gibbs wants the bill to streamline federal approvals for Army Corps of Engineers water projects, such as the 30-year process to build the Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Paducah, Kentucky. Environmental groups worry that shortening the approval time frame will reduce environmental protections.
"It is no longer acceptable that these studies take dozens of years to complete," Gibbs said as he chaired a June 5 hearing. "Ultimately, the federal taxpayer is on the hook for these studies and for the length of time it takes to carry them out, delaying the benefits these projects are ultimately supposed to provide."
The top Democrat on his subcommittee, New York's Tim Bishop, says the pair have a "cordial and frank" relationship and are working cooperatively on the bill. He said they agree on the need to streamline approvals, but Bishop wants to ensure it will be done in a fiscally and environmentally responsible way.
"I think Chairman Gibbs shares that, but we will have to see as we go forward," says Bishop.
Gibbs also has authored a legislative initiative that would remove firearms use restrictions on Army Corps of Engineers property. Gibbs says the Army Corps of Engineers is the nation's largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation, and that gun owners should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights when they legally hunt, fish or camp on Army Corps property.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican who is working on the water legislation with Gibbs, describes him as "a funny and thoughtful guy."
"Every meeting I've had with him, no matter how intense, there always seems to be a light moment where Bob's sense of humor shows through," says Shuster.
Democratic-leaning interest groups are less impressed with Gibbs. After automatic spending cuts were implemented though the sequester process, a coalition of unions targeted Gibbs and a half-dozen other congressional Republicans with television ads that accused them of "inflicting pain on millions just to protect tax loopholes for corporations and the richest few."
Gibbs blamed the sequester budget cuts on Obama, and accused Democrats of being unwilling to make needed spending cuts.
Gibbs grew up in a house on Columbia Road in Bay Village, the second of Phillip and Julia Gibbs' four children. HIs father was an insurance broker. During his time at Bay High School, Gibbs was on the wrestling team and worked at Babson's Garden Center in Westlake (now the site of a CVS) , where he realized he enjoyed outdoor work.
He got an agriculture degree at Ohio State's Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster and bought a hog farm in Holmes County that he dubbed "Hidden Hollow Farms." He and his wife, Jody, raised their three children there and roughly 10,000 hogs each year until they switched to farming corn and beans..
Gibbs became active in Ohio's farm bureau program, eventually becoming head of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. The Republican Party asked him to run for Ohio's legislature after the state's last redistricting, in 2002, when a new Holmes County-based seat opened up. Gibbs served continuously in the Ohio House and Senate until 2010, when he decided to run for Congress against incumbent Democrat Zack Space of Dover.
Gibbs says he was upset by Space's votes in favor of "Obamacare," as well as his support for President Obama's economic stimulus plan, and a "cap and trade" carbon emissions reduction plan that was opposed by the coal industry.
Ohio Rep. David Hall of Millersburg said he encouraged Gibbs to seek the congressional seat one evening when the two of them stayed up late together to watch the vote on the health care law.
"That triggered something," recalls Hall, who has been friends with Gibbs for at least 17 years. "He felt the vote at that time just wasn't something that people would want in that district. He felt he could represent it at a greater level."
During the 2010 election that swept Republicans back into House of Representatives control, Gibbs won 54 percent of the vote against Space. In the next election, he defeated businesswoman Joyce Healy-Abrams by a greater margin. In both races, his largest campaign donations were firms in the energy production and mining industries.
"Bob is a guy who just loves to work," says Hall. "No matter who he represents, he will serve the people in his district. He is out there meeting the people in Huron County all the way down to Coshocton County. He loves to get out there. The different state representatives in his district tell me they see him a lot, and ask me if he ever goes home."
Gibbs says he finds Washington itself aggravating, from its high rents and traffic to its penchant for political posturing. When he has to be at the U.S. Capitol for congressional business, he shares a two-bedroom apartment near the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium with his chief of staff.
"He is a creature of Ohio, not a creature of Washington," says Columbus-area GOP Rep. Steve Stivers. "He is on the first plane back home to his wife, family and constituents. He is here to serve his people, and get home to them as quick as he can."
Gibbs says he enjoys driving around his district to meet constituents, and sending columns to local newspapers that bear the headline: "Washington doesn't like me very much."
"Washington is trying to create an environment where working hard and being successful is somehow shameful," Gibbs said in one such column. "That is an attitude that I will not stand for and my belief in the private sector has once again put me at odds with the Washington politicians."
Still, Gibbs says he likes the parts of his job that allow him to use his office to reduce the size of government and to help his constituents fight bureaucracy to get things done.
"Some days are better than others," he says. "Sometimes you get something accomplished. You have to remember what you are trying to do. We've got some big issues and challenges. We can't stay on the course we are on. It is not sustainable."