Friday, June 24, 2011

Meet the candidates: Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich (Gage Skidmore)
Newt Gingrich is a transplanted Georgian who was born and grew up in Pennsylvania.  Born in 1943, his birth name was Newton Leroy McPherson.  His mother and father divorced after a marriage of only a few days.  Newt’s mother remarried to a career army officer, Robert Gingrich, in 1946.  Gingrich adopted Newt and the couple had three daughters.

The family moved frequently as the senior Gingrich received new assignments.  Newt graduated from high school in Columbus, Ga. in 1961.  He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in history in 1965.  He earned a Master’s and Ph.D. in modern European history from Tulane, graduating in 1971.  After earning his doctorate, Gingrich returned to Georgia, where he taught at West Georgia College in Carrollton from 1970 to 1978. 

Gingrich’s political career began with campaigns for congress in Georgia’s sixth district in 1974 and 1976.  He narrowly lost those races to Democrat Jack Flynt, but won in 1978 when Flynt decided not to seek re-election.  Gingrich served in the House of Representatives until 1998.  He was elected Minority Whip in 1989 to succeed Dick Cheney, who resigned to become Secretary of Defense.  In 1994, in the wake of the Republican landslide, Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House when Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Il.) did not seek re-election to congress.

Gingrich was largely responsible for the Contract with America that led to the 1994 Republican landslide.  During his tenure as speaker, Gingrich oversaw the passage of welfare reform, tax cuts (including the largest capital gains tax cut in U.S. history), and pushed for a balanced budget under President Clinton.  The budget was balanced in 1999 for the first time since 1969.  Gingrich’s reform agenda is a major reason for the economic boom of the 1990s.

Gingrich was also involved in the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996.  In a situation similar to the one faced today, the Republicans refused to raise the debt limit when Democrats balked at budget cuts.  Ultimately, the shutdowns resulted in the deal to balance the budget, but Gingrich suffered politically from comments that made it seem that he shut down the government in response to a snub from President Clinton.  After Republicans lost the presidential election and eight house seats in 1996, Gingrich resigned from Congress. 

Since leaving Congress, he has served on the Defense Policy Board for President George W. Bush and the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century.  He also teaches the Joint Warfighting Course to Major Generals at the Air University and is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at the National Defense University.  In 2003, he founded the Center for Health Transformation to create free market health care reforms.  In 2007, he founded American Solutions, a conservative think-tank and action group.  Gingrich has also written a number of books on topics ranging from history to government policy to fictional alternate history.  After leaving Congress, he moved from Georgia to McLean, Va. where he currently resides.

There are several skeletons in Newt Gingrich’s closet.  In 1992, Gingrich was one of more than 450 congressmen who bounced checks written on the house bank.  The house bank covered the overdrafts, but many congressmen had thousands of dollars that were overdue for months.  Gingrich was not singled out by the Ethics Committee and was one of the Republican congressmen who decided to go public with the scandal, realizing that more Democrats would be affected than Republicans.

While he was in Congress, Gingrich also taught a course at Kennesaw State College in Kennesaw, Ga., an Atlanta suburb.  The course, titled “Renewing American Civilization,” led to an ethics charge and an investigation by the IRS.  The House Ethics Committee found no wrongdoing, but Gingrich did pay a fine for conflicting statements filed by his attorneys.  The Kennesaw State Foundation’s tax-exempt status was threatened after accepting $200,000 to televise Gingrich’s course across the country.  The foundation was exonerated after Gingrich resigned.

In 2008, Gingrich teamed up with Nancy Pelosi, another now former house speaker, to make a commercial advocating green energy to halt climate change.  In the past three years, Gingrich seems to have retreated somewhat on the issue.  A video on the New Hampshire Primary blog shows Gingrich saying “a topic large enough to change the behavior of the entire human race is a topic that is more than science and deserves public hearings with very tough minded public questions and we’ve had almost none of that on either side.”

Newt’s personal life may also be a problem for many prospective voters.  He married for the first time at nineteen to his former geometry teacher who was twenty-six at the time.  Six months after the 1980 divorce, Gingrich remarried.  Gingrich admitted to having an affair with Callista Bisek, a house staffer, during his second marriage.  He divorced for the second time in 2000 and married Bisek shortly after. 

In a 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Gingrich admitted that his actions were wrong:  There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness. Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness.”

Gingrich has also run into two problems since announcing his candidacy this year.  In the first, he angered conservatives when he referred to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan as “right-wing social engineering.”  Gingrich apologized to Ryan and tried to repair the damage, but his comments probably did not endear him to Tea Partiers or deficit hawks.

Secondly, in early June, Gingrich’s entire senior campaign staff resigned.  The resignations came in the wake of Gingrich’s two-week cruise in the Greek isles.  The staff members reportedly were concerned that Gingrich did not take the campaign seriously.  The departure of his staff will likely affect Gingrich’s ability to raise campaign funds, since many potential donors will seriously question his ability to win if he isn’t supported by his own employees.

The most recent Real Clear Politics index of polls shows Gingrich in statistical tie for fifth place with Ron Paul.  He currently trails Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Rudolf Giuliani, and fellow Georgian Herman Cain.  Most of the current polls do not reflect the public reaction to the resignation of Gingrich’s staff.  An Insider Advantage/WSB-TV poll of Georgia voters in early June showed Gingrich in third place behind Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann.

Very few doubt Newt Gingrich’s intelligence and ability to make policy, but if he is to survive the primary season he has major obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is to replace his entire staff in the middle of the campaign.  Gingrich’s missteps and gaffes make it unlikely that he will win the contest to face Barack Obama in 2012, but he would be a valuable advisor and strategist to the eventual Republican nominee.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meet the candidates: Tim Pawlenty

A newcomer to the Republican presidential race for 2012 is Tim Pawlenty.  Pawlenty, known as “TPaw,” is the two-term governor of Minnesota and has been credited by the Wall St. Journal with offering the “most ambitious reform agenda so far.”

Pawlenty is a native of Minnesota and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.  He originally planned to become a dentist, but changed his major to political science and then went on to earn a Juris Doctor from Minnesota’s law school.  After graduation, he worked as a labor lawyer and later become president of a software company. 

He got his start in politics as an appointed member of the City Planning Commission in Eagen, Minn.  A year later, in 1989, he was elected to the city council.  In 1992, Pawlenty was elected to Minnesota’s House of Representatives.  He was re-elected four times and became majority leader in 1998. 

In 2002, Pawlenty considered a run for Minnesota governor as well as a run for the U.S. Senate.  Although Minnesota’s GOP leaders preferred a different candidate, Pawlenty chose to run for governor when Vice President Cheney asked that he step aside to allow Norm Coleman to run for the senate seat.  Pawlenty won a three way race in the general election by campaigning on a pledge not to raise taxes, a twenty-four hour waiting period for abortions, education reform, and passage of a concealed carry law for guns.  Pawlenty won re-election in 2006, but elected not to run for a third term. 

As governor, Pawlenty says he balanced Minnesota’s budget without raising taxes.  While he did cut spending, critics charge that his balanced budgets were also the result of accounting tricks such as borrowing from other accounts, increasing fees and accepting federal stimulus funds.  For example, Fox News reports that Minnesota schools are owed more than $1.4 billion by the state’s general fund.  The Minnesota cigarette tax was increased by 75 cents under Pawlenty, although he calls this a fee rather than a tax.  Other taxes were increased as well though without Pawlenty’s approval.  The Democratic legislature overrode his veto of a gas tax increase, voters increased the sales tax, and local government increased property taxes. 

Though Pawlenty is no longer governor, Minnesota is facing a projected $5 billion shortfall, in part because spending cuts that Pawlenty enacted are beginning to expire.  Pawlenty defended his record, telling Fox News, "It's based on a big increase in projected spending — 20-some percent increase — that I never would've allowed."

A controversial aspect of Pawlenty’s tenure as governor involves Minnesota’s sharia-compliant home loan program.  As part of a program to expand home ownership, Minnesota’s state housing agency had set up a program that would allow Muslims to avoid paying interest on home mortgages, which many believe to be prohibited by Islamic sharia law.  Pawlenty has taken criticism for allowing the program, but according to a report by CBS News was not responsible for the program.  According to a statement by his office, the program was set up by the housing office acting on its own and Pawlenty ordered its termination when he became aware of it. 

Another controversy in Pawlenty’s past involves his past support for carbon cap-and-trade.  In 2008, he even went so far as to make a radio ad with Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who was then the governor of Arizona.  Napolitano is now Secretary of Homeland Security.  By 2009, Pawlenty was writing letters to Congress to oppose cap-and-trade legislation that was being considered.  According to Minnesota Public Radio, Pawlenty still believes that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for global warming, but opposes cap-and-trade on economic grounds.  He now says, “… all of us should be focused on reducing emissions and pollution, but we need to do that in a way that doesn't wreck the economy, doesn't hurt our farmers [and] doesn't hurt our manufacturers….”  Pawlenty believes that nuclear power fits that description.

Most recently, Pawlenty earned publicity for coining the term “Obamneycare” to describe the similarities between Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health insurance law and Barack Obama’s federal law.  Pawlenty’s phrase highlights the fact that Romney enacted a centralized health care reform featuring an individual mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts.  In what is likely an undesired endorsement, President Obama praised Romney’s Massachusetts law in a February 2011 speech.

Pawlenty’s campaign manager, Nick Ayers, also worked on Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue’s re-election campaign in 2006.  While in Georgia, Ayers was arrested and charged with drunk driving in Valdosta.  Last month, a Minnesota website posted the dash cam video of Ayers’ arrest on the internet.  Ayers is a Georgia native.

Pawlenty’s campaign in Georgia will be headed by Eric Johnson, former president pro tempore of the Georgia Senate and candidate for Georgia governor.  According to CBS Minnesota, Johnson called Pawlenty “the most conservative candidate in the race that can beat President Obama” and said that he “is right on the fiscal issues and right on the social issues.”

At this point, Pawlenty is a long shot for the Republican nomination.  A May 2011 Gallup poll shows him in sixth place with six percent of Republicans favoring him.  Those numbers might increase following a recent speech unveiling his economic plan in which Pawlenty called for tax cuts and a simplification of the tax code along with a constitutional amendment that caps government spending at 18 percent of GDP.  (Federal spending is currently at about 40 percent of GDP according to  Pawlenty’s plan is the polar opposite of the Obama economic plan and that might just be what voters are looking for in 2012.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meet the candidates: Herman Cain

Last month in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, Herman Cain announced his candidacy for president.  Cain is one of a growing number of minority Republicans who are disillusioned with the policies of President Obama and the Democrats.

Cain is a native Georgian who grew up in Atlanta.  He was born on December 13, 1945 and graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in mathematics and physics in 1967.  He earned a Master’s degree in computer science from Purdue University in 1971.

Cain began his career as a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy where he helped to design fire control systems for ships and aircraft.  He also worked in computers for the Coca Cola, Co. after returning to Atlanta.  Next, he was hired by Pillsbury, where he became vice president.

In search of a challenge, Cain decided to learn the restaurant business from the bottom.  He transferred to Pillsbury’s Burger King division where he became the regional vice president.  In that capacity, he was responsible for transforming a low performing region into the company’s top performer. 

Next, he was hired as the president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, another Pillsbury company.  When he started the job, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy, but Cain was able to return the company to profitability in only fourteen months.  In 1988, Cain led a group of investors that purchased Godfather’s from Pillsbury.  He continued as CEO until 1996. 

In 1994, Cain was elected president of the National Restaurant Association, a lobbying and trade group.  In this capacity, Cain had the opportunity to confront President Clinton about Clinton’s attempt to enact a national health care plan.  Newsweek credited Cain with being instrumental in the defeat of Clinton’s plan:

“An articulate black entrepreneur, Cain transformed the debate when he challenged Clinton at a town meeting in Kansas City, Mo., last April. Cain asked the president what he was supposed to say to the workers he would have to lay off because of the cost of the ‘employer mandate.’ Clinton responded that there would be plenty of subsidies for small businessmen, but Cain persisted. ‘Quite honestly, your calculation is inaccurate,’ he told the president. ‘In the competitive marketplace it simply doesn't work that way.’”

Cain also became a member of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in 1992.  From 1995 to 1996, he served as chairman of the board.  He resigned in 1996 to serve as an economic advisor to the presidential campaign of Bob Dole.

Cain has never held a publically elected office.  His only previous foray into a political race was in 2004 when he competed in the Georgia Republican primary for the nomination to succeed Senator Zell Miller.  Cain lost the primary to Johnny Isakson who went on to win the general election as well.  Cain placed a distant second with twenty-six percent of the vote compared to Isakson’s 53 percent according to the Washington Post.

More recently, Cain has worked in the media as a syndicated columnist, analyst on the Fox Business network, and host of the “Herman Cain Show” on Atlanta’s WSB AM-750.  Cain also started the Intelligent Thinker’s Movement (HITM), a conservative group with the goal of organizing activists in every congressional district.  He has also written several books about business and politics.  In 2010, Cain was the emcee at a regional Tea Party in Douglas County, Ga.

Cain places his highest priority on national security.  His campaign website says that the “primary duty” of the president and the “principal duty of a limited federal government” is to “protect our people.” 

Cain is also a long-time supporter of the Fair Tax.  The Fair Tax, which would replace all federal income and payroll taxes with a national consumption tax, was championed by Mike Huckabee in 2008.  Supporters say the Fair Tax would promote economic growth and make the U.S. more competitive in world markets.

On his radio show, Cain has been very critical of President Obama and the Democratic health care reform bill, which Cain refers to as “deform.”  He has also opposed the expansion of federal power in the financial industry, although he did support TARP, he later told National Review that he “had trouble with its implementation, picking winners and losers.”

The Cain campaign has been hit by two scandals since he declared his candidacy.  First, he was reported by Think Progress to have made the statement that he would not appoint any Muslims in his administration.  Cain’s statement was due to his belief that many Muslims are trying to bring Sharia law to the United States and that they may have divided loyalties.  In fact, Islam does permit Muslims to conceal their true beliefs under a doctrine known as taqiyahIn a statement on Fox News, Cain has since clarified that he would consider appointing Muslims who were “totally committed to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”  The Constitution prohibits a religious test for any public office.

Second, there have been allegations that Cain, as a member of the board of directors of energy company Aquila, was complicit in the loss of $200 million from the employee retirement fund in 2002.  An article in Mother Jones alleges that the board converted the company from an operator of power plants to an “Enron-esque” energy trader.  According to a class action lawsuit cited in the article, the board was irresponsible in encouraging employees to invest their retirement money in Aquila, which was itself engaging in risky energy trades.  In the end, many employees lost much of their retirement money. 

When he first emerged as a candidate, few considered Cain to be a serious contender for the White House.  The first GOP presidential debate changed that perception.  Cain was widely recognized as the winner of the May 2011 debate in Greenville, S.C.

Nevertheless, Cain still has much ground to make up.  In a late May Gallup poll Cain was in fifth place in the Republican field at eight percent.  He trailed frontrunner Mitt Romney as well as Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich.  The margin between Paul, Gingrich and Cain is small enough to be considered a statistical tie for third place.

In more recent polls, after the second Republican debate in June, Cain moved into double digits in several national polls.  Nationally, his best showing was in a Public Policy poll on June 12 where he garnered 17 percent.  In an Insider Advantage poll of Georgia voters, he won twenty-six percent.

Cain is widely considered a Tea Party candidate.  His success may ultimately depend on whether voters sympathetic to the Tea Party align with him or Rep. Michelle Bachmann.