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A Profile of Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

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A Profile of Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at the 2008 Republican National Convention

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Early Life:

Newt Gingrich was born Newton Leroy McPherson on June 17, 1943 in Harrisburg, Pa. to teenage parents, Newton Searles McPherson, 19, and Kathleen "Kit" Daugherty, 16. After a marriage that lasted just three days, Kit raised her son alone until she met Bob Gingrich. In return for skipping his child support payments, Newt McPherson gave up parental rights to his son, allowing Bob Gingrich to formally adopt the boy. Newt met his first wife, Jackie Battley in high school -- she was his geometry teacher. Over the objections of his step-father, an Army colonel, Gingrich married her and the couple had two children.

Marriages:

Gingrich has been married three times, and he has been accused of having a multitude of extramarital affairs, although he has only admitted to one -- with the woman who would eventually become his third and present wife. After having two daughters with his first wife, they were divorced in 1980. She accused him of discussing divorce terms during her recuperation from cancer. Six months later, he married his second wife, Marianne Ginther, whom he divorced in 2000. During their marriage, he was having an affair with Callista Bisek around the time Kenneth Starr was investigating President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

Political Career Highlights:

After graduate school, Gingrich ran two unsuccessful campaigns for Congress, in 1974 and 1976. He won on his third try in 1978, where he served the Sixth District of Georgia for 20 years. His outspoken activism as a member of the Republican minority was rewarded in 1989, when he was named minority whip. During the 1994 Congressional election cycle, Gingrich co-authored the Contract With America, which outlined the series of steps the GOP would take if returned to power after 40 years. The Republicans won, and Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House, serving for four years between 1995 until his retirement in 1999.

Rise to Prominence:

From 1981 to 1988, Gingrich was an up and comer, but had no real political clout. It wasn't until he and 77 other House members brought ethics charges against Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright, which led to Wright's ultimate resignation, that many in the GOP caucus began to take Gingrich seriously. When Minority Whip Dick Cheney was appointed Secretary of Defense in newly-elected President George H.W. Bush's administration, Gingrich, a rising star, was the natural choice to succeed him. After the savings and loan scandal and the House banking scandal, the GOP gathered momentum under Gingrich's leadership.

Contract with America:

Using part of a speech by Ronald Reagan in 1985, Gingrich, along with his fellow minority Republicans, drafted the Contract with America, which was unveiled just six weeks before the 1994 elections. The contract included a comprehensive government reform package that concentrated on major policy changes such as tax cuts, tort reform, social security reform, welfare reform and term limits. The Contract With America is widely credited with the 1994 Republican sweep, which vaunted Republicans into majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since 1953. A few of the contract's reforms remain in place.

Tenure as Speaker of the House:

During the 1994 elections, Minority Leader Bob Michel did not run for re-election, which meant Gingrich had a clear shot at the Speakership and was elected. Shortly after the Contract With America had been voted upon, passed, vetoed, renegotiated, re-voted upon and again passed, budget talks between House Republicans and President Clinton broke down. Gingrich led the override of Clinton's veto and when government operations expired, the federal government shut down.

Leadership Challenge:

Following the 1996 elections, many House Republicans blamed the GOP's weakened position on Gingrich. Meanwhile, Democrats filed a raft of ethics charges at him in an ironic attempt to get him to resign. Gingrich ultimately pleaded guilty and in 1997 was fined more than $300,000. Gingrich maintained that the statements made against him were "inaccurate" and "unreliable." Later that year, members of the GOP caucus staged a coup to remove Gingrich from the chair. Upon learning of Gingrich's potential replacement, Dick Armey, one of the conspirators, warned the Speaker of the coup and the threat was averted.

Resignation from House:

Despite his narrow escape from being unseated as Speaker, it was clear by 1998 that Gingrich didn't have long in his position. Although he never joined the chorus of voices admonishing Clinton for his marital indiscretions, Gingrich did use the president's alleged perjury as a rallying cry to gain more seats in the midterm elections. Nevertheless, Republicans suffered more losses and the blame was again laid at Gingrich's feet. Rather than face another challenge for his seat, Gingrich announced he would step down not only as Speaker but also from the House -- despite soundly winning an 11th term.

Continued Relevance to Conservatives:

In his post-Congressional life, Gingrich has published 18 books and is often a figure who conservatives turn to for political guidance. Not quite the polarizing figure he was in the House, Gingrich is often the voice of reason during times of intense public debate. Prior to the 2008 presidential campaign, Gingrich had expressed interest in running, but in 2007 announced that a bid for president would create a conflict of interest between his campaign and his role as head of American Solutions for Winning the Future, a non-partisan organization he founded that year. The group's goal is to organize citizen activists.
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