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April 9, 2010

Gingrich Offers Perspective on Leadership

WASHINGTON – When former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was approached to speak to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Spring Forum, he said he was a bit surprised by the invitation.

“When they asked me to talk about civility and leadership I thought ‘we’re dramatically more troubled than I expected,’” Gingrich joked. From there, he shared some lessons he learned while serving for 21 years in the House and four years as its speaker. He stressed that respect for everyone who wins an elected office is needed to move issues forward.

Elected officials have an “obligation to uphold the Constitution,” he said. “Set priorities and compartmentalize. Force yourself to find things you can agree on and build a sense of mutual humanity.”

Gingrich addressed the NCSL group of state lawmakers and legislative staff attending the spring meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 9, 2010. His message comes at a time when partisan rancor overshadows the debate in the nation’s capital and many state lawmakers face similar struggles in their chambers.

Leadership, Gingrich said, starts with listening to voters. The core leadership model he followed while in Congress, he said, was to listen, learn, help and lead.   

“If you discipline yourself to listen to [constituents] before you ask them to listen to you, you change the dynamic,” he said. “Ask questions until you understand why it makes sense to them.”

And now is a crucial time for America to remain competitive in a fast-evolving global marketplace. With countries such as India and China gaining prominence in technology and innovation, he said, the United States is faced with an enormous scale of change. State legislatures can facilitate a competitive workforce by promoting science and technology education as well as supporting small businesses, he said.

State lawmakers need to engage scientists and find solutions to the most pressing challenges including energy, materials technology and health. However, Gingrich said there is a fourth bubble that has yet to burst after the decline of the tech industry, the housing market and Wall Street: government.

“Every level from school board to state government to the federal government” is going to burst, he said. “We have too much government. It is too slow and it’s going to break.”

With that, Gingrich challenged state lawmakers to power share with city and county governments.

“Most of you would like to have more authority to run your states and less control from the federal government,” he said. “When you go back home, apply that same role to your localities. You need to get more power back to city and country governments. We need a rebirth of local governments. Many more things need to be decided and invented locally.”

Only through this, Gingrich said, can the country begin to fix the current crisis and remain competitive in the world marketplace.

NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories. It provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues and is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of the states in the American federal system.