Newt Gingrich is principally known as a "family values" American politician who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. His forcefully articulate right-wing views helped to fuel a Republican sweep of the House in 1994. Gingrich was the architect of the Republicans' Contract with America, which led to a battle with President Bill Clinton and two government shutdowns. Early years
Newton Leroy McPherson was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on June 17, 1943, the son of Kit and Newton McPherson. His parents' early separation left him and his mother to fend for themselves. His mother then married an Army officer, Robert Gingrich, in 1946. Newt's new stepfather adopted him and changed the boy's surname to his own. In an interview with a PBS Frontline reporter, Robert Gingrich described Newt as a "precocious" child, and added, "He was very apt. He seemed to learn faster than his equals. And he was a little bratty too, at the time, because he had been living with his mother and the grandmother, who was a doting grandmother. But he was not a brat. He was precocious." Newt spent little time with his half sister, Candace Gingrich. He was nearly an adult when she was born. In 1958, at the age of 15, Gingrich visited the battlefield at Verdun, France. He would later claim that the visit changed his life, declaring that as a politician, he would be able to prevent such carnage from happening again. Education Gingrich attended school in various military settings, including a short stint in the Air Force ROTC, and graduated from Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia, in 1961. On June 19, 1962, Newt married his high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley, after one year of attendance at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1965, Newt earned his bachelor's degree from Emory, followed by a master's degree in 1968. By 1971, he received his doctoral degree in modern European history from Tulane University in New Orleans. He went on to teach history at West Georgia College in Carrollton, Georgia. Politics After running two unsuccessful campaigns as a Republican for Congress in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District, Newt Gingrich finally hit the jackpot. With prior contender Jack Flynt out of the picture due to retirement, Gingrich claimed victory against Democrat Virginia Shapard in the 1978 election, the starting gun for Gingrich's influential career in the house. He would be reelected 10 times. In 1981, Gingrich was a cofounder of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus and the Congressional Space Caucus. That year, he and Jackie were divorced. In 1983, he founded the Conservative Opportunity Society, a group of young conservative House Republicans. In 1983, Gingrich demanded the expulsion of fellow representatives Dan Crane and Gerry Studds for their part in the Congressional Page sex scandal. As a bold young Republican, Gingrich averred that GOP leaders were too complacent, too willing to compromise with the majority Democrats. He had formed the Conservative Opportunity Society to oppose what he termed the liberal welfare state. When the House started to broadcast its sessions on C-SPAN, he delivered fiery speeches aimed at the viewing public more than his House colleagues. In 1987, Gingrich brought ethics charges against Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright that eventually forced the Speaker's resignation and helped propel Gingrich into the number two spot in the House hierarchy. However, Gingrich's outspokenness made him a prime target. He came within 974 votes of losing his seat, centered in Atlanta's southern suburbs, to a Democrat in 1990. The next year, enemies in the Georgia legislature picked apart his district during reapportionment, hoping to dismember his career. But Gingrich, the gritty survivor, moved to a more Republican area in Atlanta's northern suburbs, ran for an open seat there, and won. When House Minority Leader Bob Michel retired before the 1994 election, Gingrich moved to the top Republican seat. Armed by an agenda they dubbed the Contract with America, the Republicans won their first majority in four decades; the precocious boy from Georgia was now speaker of the House, and a Republican revolution was underway. Nine of the 10 Contract items passed the House, but several suffered modification or elimination in the Senate. Gingrich proved more popular as a revolutionary than as a leader. Like Wright, he became entangled in ethics charges in 1987 that eventually led to his reprimand by the House in 1997 and a $300,000 penalty. The sanctions were for "intentional and reckless" disregard of House rules by using tax-exempt foundations for political purposes, and subsequently lying to the House Ethics Committee. After the Republicans in Congress shut down the government for the second time, in a 1996 showdown with President Bill Clinton, Gingrich's popularity plunged, never to return to the heights of 1994. For the next four years, Gingrich took aim at the embattled president, investigating various scandals and calling for Clinton's impeachment. By 1996, nearly six in 10 voters polled registered an unfavorable opinion of Gingrich. Some of his top colleagues even plotted a "coup" against him, but Gingrich managed to keep his job.
The GOP anticipated significant gains from the 1998 Congressional elections. When the party tallied the poorest results in 34 years for either party out of the White House, many fingers pointed at Gingrich. He completed his term in office, but declined to take the seat he had been reelected to, as well as the speakership in January 1999. Post-congressional activities Gingrich was regularly mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in the 2000 election. However, his ethics scandal, and the downward spiral of his congressional peers made him a prime candidate for withering scrutiny. Gingrich has since remained involved in public policy debate. He is a senior fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, focusing on health care (he founded the Center for Health Transformation), information technology, the military, and politics. He occasionally serves as a commentator, guest or panel member on television news shows. In 2005, Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista (whom he married in 1983) made a donation, through the Gingrich Foundation, of $25,000 to Luther College to establish the Gingrich Scholarship that provides annual scholarships to music majors studying piano, organ or wind instruments. Ironically, the job that Newt Gingrich always wanted, and spent much of his adult life working toward, was his for only four years. Still, his high-profile regime as speaker, and the political wirlwind he engineered in 1994, has earned him substantial notoriety in history that few former speakers can match.