- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 11, 2006

Newt Gingrich, who led the Republican Party to power a dozen years ago, told cheering conservatives yesterday it is time to overhaul a balky, slow-moving government locked in the past century.

Citing multiple government failures after Hurricane Katrina, the former House speaker said the government meltdown at all levels illustrated how badly government needs to be updated in all of its operations.

“The system failed, the city of New Orleans failed, the state of Louisiana failed and the government of the United States failed,” Mr. Gingrich said. “When you see an American body on an American street sitting there for three days on television because the government can’t collect the dead, something has failed.

“Where are the proposals for dramatic, bold, large change that every time something fails in New Orleans during the reconstruction, we don’t defend it … we fix it?” Mr. Gingrich’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was scripted like a presidential campaign stop, with young supporters in red T-shirts passing out buttons and pamphlets.

“We clearly need the Republican Party to reacquire a movement that designs a 21st-century Contract With America,” Mr. Gingrich said, recalling the set of proposals at the heart of his successful 1994 strategy to win congressional races.

Mr. Gingrich, who has been on a book-promotion tour, said he isn’t currently running for president, though he hasn’t ruled it out.

“Ideas precede reform,” Mr. Gingrich said. “If you can’t think it, you can’t say it and you can’t do it.” The former lawmaker from Georgia was accorded “rock star” treatment by those in the crowded hotel ballroom. He was interrupted frequently by standing ovations, hailed with cries of “Newt, Newt, Newt” and besieged by young fans eager for a photo with him.

Conservatives at this conference expressed mounting frustration with the expansion of government and increased spending in the past five years, even with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress.

While the conservatives credit President Bush’s leadership in the war against terror and for naming conservatives to the Supreme Court, they’re starting to consider the next wave of conservative leaders, said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

In a straw vote for presidential favorites in 2008, Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, received 22 percent of the vote of conference participants. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, garnered 20 percent; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 12 percent; and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 10 percent, according to results from Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates. Mr. Gingrich was at 5 percent.

Mr. Gingrich indirectly criticized Mr. McCain by attacking the campaign-finance law Mr. McCain sponsored along with Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, calling it “an assault on the First Amendment.” The law places limits on how much money can be raised by candidates and campaigns, and limits how that money can be used.

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