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Lunch last week with the Speaker

Last week 25 members of various metro Atlanta tea parties received an invitation from Newt Gingrich’s staff to meet with the former Speaker. His birthday was last week and I suppose he wanted to be back in Georgia with family to enjoy it, and take the opportunity to hear from some local grassroots organizations.

After the staffer’s customary “How are you?” I had to ask, “I just heard that a dozen of Newt’s staff quit, so I ought to be asking, how YOU are?” A chuckle at the other end.

Frankly, after hearing of the staff defections and two key fund-raisers stepping aside, I was skeptical of driving to the city for the event, but I’d heard Newt speak firsthand about 25 years ago. In front of a class of 500 Army majors at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., he succinctly explained important ideas and illustrated key relationships that hadn’t even been on our radar. And so it was this past Wednesday in Atlanta.

As you’d expect, the audience was fiscally conservative with some social moderates sprinkled about. Newt and wife Callista joined us for a very personal luncheon. There were no press, handlers, or elected officials, just the two of them and a handful of Georgia citizens. One mom brought her home-schooled son, who asked Gingrich if he supported loser-pays lawsuits (he does).

In a conversational manner, Gingrich touched on familiar themes important to the country: 14 million Americans out of work, one in four homes worth less than the mortgage, a mountain of federal debt, the need to return to a Constitutionally-limited federal government, energy, and principles that make America exceptional.

Newt Gingrich has always been an idea man (he was the force behind the 1994 Contract With America), and after hearing his ideas here, more than one of us said, “Well, sure, that makes sense; of course that’s the way to approach that tough issue.”

It was also obvious that practical ideas in our complex world are a rare commodity and a threat to the current administration and the fawning press that supports it. No small wonder, then, that his major policy speech on the Federal Reserve the same morning made no headlines, but the gossip of departing consultants does.

And yes, Newt responded to the inevitable question about the staff, explaining, “Of the staff with me a year ago, all but one is still aboard.” Those who left were consultants whose campaign strategy differed from Gingrich’s bottoms-up approach.

There are still about 18 months of campaigning to go; now I’ll dig beyond the press reports or go to newt.org to learn more about candidate Gingrich.

Robert J. Ross

Peachtree City, Ga.

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