Gingrich's Contract With Tomorrow

Former House speaker pushes government overhaul. Will he run for president?

February 11, 2009, 9:34 PM

Sept. 28, 2007 — -- Newt Gingrich might be flirting with a presidential run.

But the former House speaker says the change he is after is much bigger than anything the next president can do.

"This is so hard to get across to the national news media," said Gingrich. "It cannot only be about the presidency. The fact is that in our constitutional structure the president is only one of 513,000 elected officials. There are school boards, county commissions, city councils, local judges, the sheriff, the state legislature."

"When you try to change America," he said, "you have to change a heck [of] a lot more than Washington, and you have to change a heck of a lot more than the Oval Office. You have to have citizens at every level who are prepared to go out and work for real change."

Gingrich's effort to move government into a Fed Ex-like "world that works" got under way Thursday with a speech in Atlanta. His American Solutions movement continues Saturday with a series of policy-based workshops around the country that will focus on everything from "saving Social Security" to "saying goodbye to the IRS" to "rediscovering God in America."

Sunday, he appears on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."

View the schedule of workshops here:

To give a nonpartisan tinge to his conservative reform effort, Gingrich was joined on stage Thursday by a former Democratic Party chairman who talked about his current efforts to reform the nation's public schools.

Roy Romer, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who ran the Los Angeles public schools after serving as governor of Colorado, talked Thursday about his push for higher standards, more time for learning and differential pay for teachers.

Gingrich explained his effort to include Democrats during a recent breakfast with reporters.

"We are consciously trying to build the momentum," said Gingrich, "that says the country is sick of red versus blue and is very interested in a red, white and blue approach."

Romer's Saturday workshop on education is not the only one that will be headed by a well-known Democrat.

Harvard professor Elaine Kamarck, a former top adviser to Vice President Al Gore, who ran President Clinton's reinventing government initiative, will give a workshop on reducing the bureaucracy.

While praising the work of Democrats like Romer, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Gingrich also espoused more traditional conservative rhetoric on abolishing the "death tax," making the lives of trial lawyers harder and defeating — rather than trying to understand — America's enemies.

"We are a very united American people with a very divided political process," said Gingrich, "and we want to understand the distinction."

Gingrich's speech was punctuated with stark language about what he thinks a businesslike government in touch with the public's values should deliver.

"As a general rule," said Gingrich, "I think levees should not fail, I think bridges should not fall … and I think English should be the official language of government."

As part of his broader reform effort, Gingrich is planning to undertake special initiatives on the environment and the problems of the inner city.

Next month, Gingrich is undertaking a project on what he calls "green conservatism."

He described this effort as the application of incentives, prizes and markets to the development of conservation solutions. The project will feature the release of a new book "Contract with the Earth," which Gingrich co-authored with conservationist Terry Maple and biologist Edward O. Wilson.

Gingrich also hopes to "tackle" the inner city as an "intellectual problem" in four or five cities.

"There is something fundamentally wrong when for a substantial number of young people, they are more likely to go to jail than they are to go to college," Gingrich told reporters Sept. 14. "This has got to be more than hand wringing and pious morality. I think we have to fundamentally rethink what's happening in these cultural subsets and how can we create a new structure and a new framework and a new set of incentives."

Gingrich, who has praised New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's effort to encourage responsible choices among poor New Yorkers, is currently exploring a project in a poor section of Atlanta that would pay students the equivalent of working at McDonald's if they take math or science and get a B or better.

The architect of the 1994 Republican revolution also aims to apply new technologies of mass collaboration to the task of transforming government.

One goal is to create an open-ended solutions lab on the Internet that he described as a "solutions version" of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that gets continuously updated by Web users around the world.

Another goal is to create online systems that can serve as mentors.

"Imagine you became a new school board member," said Gingrich, "and you could take an online learning system, and you could find other school board members who have already had the experience that you are about to have and really build a totally different kind of mentoring system."

To connect his American Solutions movement with the 1994 takeover of Congress that he spearheaded, Gingrich timed his Thursday address to fall exactly 13 years after House Republicans signed the Contract With America. Rather than return to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Gingrich tried to underscore his technological savvy by "renting" the west front of the Capitol in "Second Life," a 3-D virtual world.

Never one to think small, Gingrich sees his American Solutions effort as the ninth "great wave of change" in American history. The previous eight, in Gingrich's view, were led by the Federalists, the Jeffersonians, the Jacksonians, the Lincoln Republicans, the Progressives, the New Deal, President Reagan and Gingrich himself when Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after 40 years of Democratic control.

For his American Solutions movement to succeed, Gingrich estimates that he will need to recruit 5 million activists. He said he is nowhere close to having that many activists at this time. But he is promising to pursue the reform with the same tenacity that marked his 16-year effort to build a GOP majority in the House.

"In my view," Gingrich said about this week's event, "the 27th and the 29th [of September] are a launching point. They are not a finishing point."

ABC News' Nancy Flores and Mike Chesney contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events