Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in Southern California last week. He spoke at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports the conservative iconoclast called on governors to become agents of change.
Frank Stoltze: On any given Sunday, Newt Gingrich can be seen on one of the morning TV talk shows or C-SPAN – and always on YouTube – talking presidential politics. But it's the governors, he said, that hold the key to progress.
Newt Gingrich: I can't overstate how important it is for the governors to be centers of innovation. Thatcher did not fundamentally change the British Tory Party. Reagan in the end didn't fundamentally change the Republican Party. And I didn't fundamentally change the House Republicans.
Stoltze: The author of the 1994 Republican "Contract with America" said the party is back to big spending. Gingrich has long been an advocate of smaller, more efficient government. In his hour long presentation to Republican governors, he praised LAPD Chief Bill Bratton's Compstat crime tracking system as one example.
Gingrich: If you haven't studied what they did in New York and what Bratton has done in California and Los Angeles, it is an amazing – because it's not just measurements. It is the use of the data, gathering the right data, and using that data to rethink resources and strategies.
Stoltze: For his part, Bratton thinks the federal government needs to spend more money to support local law enforcement. Gingrich often points out the inefficiencies of big government, and the effectiveness of the private sector. He quipped the federal government ought to use UPS and FedEx package tracking systems to find illegal immigrants.
Gingrich: Now one of my policy proposals is that we appropriate about $200 million. We send a package to every person who's here illegally. [Sound of audience laughing] When UPS and FedEx deliver it, we pull it up on our computer screen and we know where everybody is.
Stoltze: Though he's been out of office for nearly a decade, Gingrich remains an influential figure in the GOP. The 17 Republican governors here often nodded in agreement, even as he said they need to pay more attention to the environment.
Gingrich: I think that green conservatism is particularly important to the Republican Party. But what's happened to us is that we've allowed the left to define the environment, so you have to be for more regulation, more trial lawyers, bigger government, higher taxes, more controls, or you're anti-environment, and I think that's nuts.
Stoltze: Gingrich said provide more tax breaks and even give "cash prizes" to innovators of green technology. The 64-year-old college professor who now runs a think tank called American Solutions for Winning the Future said it's time for a more civil discussion in the country.
Gingrich: People want a red, white, and blue dialogue. They do not want a red versus blue debate. This is why the current structure of these presidential campaigns is just suicidal. You take all the Democrats over to one side and ask them stupid, nitpicking questions by the news media, then you take all the Republicans over to the other side and ask them stupid, nitpicking questions by the media. You maximize disagreement, you maximize pettiness, and the country just gets totally turned off.
Stoltze: And that, said Gingrich, is why he's not running for president. But he still wants to be part of the discussion. Tomorrow, Newt Gingrich travels to Iowa to issue what he calls his "Platform of the American People."