Just about everyone has heard the name Newt Gingrich. In 1995 he became the first Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 40 years. Ostensibly elected on an anti-corruption platform, Gingrich and his minions quickly began a rollback of social, environmental and progressive legislation that continues to this day. But after just three years, the Atlanta Republican called it quits and left Congress.
Today Gingrich writes “alternative history” novels in which he and co-writers re-imagine historical figures and events in a different reality. This week, he’ll appear on Maui promoting his new novel Pearl Harbor. Last week I spoke with him by phone about writing, politics and how to keep the “nuts” from running for office:
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: Thanks for calling.
NEWT GINGRICH: I first want to say that you live in an incredible place. In fact, I think it’s where I want to retire.
MTW: Well, you know what they say, if you want to get in, get in now. The prices are actually, well, stabilizing believe it or not.
GINGRICH: If they go down enough, I may be coming. We actually hope to talk to a realtor while we’re there. There’s something about it that is as close to perfect as anywhere I’ve been.
MTW: So why take on Pearl Harbor?
GINGRICH: Well, you know, when Bill Forstchen and I developed a really fun, three-version history on the civil war starting with Gettysburg, we really enjoyed it. And when we thought of what to do next, we had two very different reasons for approaching Pearl Harbor. The first, is that we believe that the Pacific is the real center of the 21st century and so we think that helping Americans look at Japan, Korea, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, the Philippines—sort of drawing them, if you will, into the Pacific would be fun. And second is that Pearl Harbor itself is such a unique moment in history. It has so many lessons for the President and it was such a horrific single change it just proves our case of active history and so we just couldn’t resist. We really spent over a year developing the book we hope people will really like it because it’s the first of a series on the Pacific War.
MTW: You mentioned in the Contract with America that one of the problems we face today is the “entrenched lobbyists and entrenched bureaucracies.” There was actually a bill in Hawai‘i addressing this. It was called the “Hawai‘i Clean Elections” bill and it gave publicly raised monies to citizens interested in campaigning for public office. Do you think something like that is a good idea?
GINGRICH: Well I think it would be a good idea to have a tax credit for political donations. I think if you say to people that the first $250 you give to political candidates is a tax credit, you dramatically increase middle-class participation. You don’t want to have federal or state funding for this reason. You’ll have an amazing number of people who are nuts, you know, who show up just to get the money. But if you say to people, “We’ll let you contribute to a political candidate that makes sense. We’ll give you the first $250 as a tax credit,” I think you will dramatically span the newer people who are engaged in contributing and you’ll create a huge middle-class base of support. Something like that would be very appealing and would, frankly, give middle-class candidates a chance to offset the power of the rich in trying to buy elections.
MTW: You also recently wrote a book about green conservatism. What would the first three steps be that you would take as a conservative environmentalist?
GINGRICH: Look, you know, green conservatives would develop some serious incentives for the changes we want. I’d like to see a refundable tax credit for land conservation that you could actually transfer to the people. I’d like to see a prize for the development of the first hydrogen-based car so we can dramatically reduce carbon loading in the atmosphere, and I’d be willing to put up to a billion dollars up tax-free for the first mass-produced car that could stand up to the challenges of being a hydrogen rather than a petroleum-based car. I’d like to see tax incentives in favor of dramatically more solar, wind and other types of power.
MTW: Have you met with Senator Fred Hemmings?
GINGRICH: No, I look forward to seeing him.
MTW: He’s promoting hydrogen-based power in Hawai‘i.
GINGRICH: I will track him down because we’ll be in Oahu Friday, Saturday and Sunday with Sean Hannity and Ollie North. So we will find him and we will meet with him.
Gingrich will speak and sign copies of Pearl Harbor on Wed., May 30 at 6 p.m. at Borders Books in Kahului. MTW