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parade - your burning questions about newt gingrich answered

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Your Burning Questions About Newt Gingrich, Answered
news
Emmet Sullivan
December 07, 2011

(image) Newt Gingrich speaks to the media in New York City Dec. 5. [Getty Images]

In just six months, Newt Gingrich has taken his presidential campaign from dead in the water to the top of the polls. The former speaker of the house is now leading the pack in early primary states like Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. While Gingrich surges in the race, PARADE answers the top questions about his life—personal and political.

What’s his backstory?
In September 1942, Kathleen “Kit” Daugherty, 16, of Harrisburg, PA, wed Newton Searles MacPherson, a 19-year-old mechanic. Three days later, Kathleen left MacPherson after he hit her for waking him up early. She told The New York Times, "We were married on a Saturday, and I left him on a Tuesday. I got Newtie in those three days." She gave birth to Newton Leroy the following June. She later met and married Robert Gingrich, an Army officer who adopted young Newt. Kathleen and Robert had three daughters: Roberta, Susan, and Candace. The family lived in Pennsylvania until 1956 when they moved to Europe. They returned to the United States in 1960, settling in Georgia. Robert Gingrich passed away in 1996; Kit, in 2003.

How many times has he been married?
Gingrich has been married three times. His first wife, Jackie Battley, had been his high school geometry teacher, and they married in 1962 when he was 19 and she was 26. They had two daughters: Jackie, an author, columnist, and political commentator, and Kathy, who was the president of Gingrich Communications until it closed earlier this year. Gingrich and Battley divorced in 1981, and he married Marianne Ginther, a personnel clerk with the Secret Service, six months later. In 1993, while still married to Ginther, he began a relationship with Callista Bisek, a congressional aide 23 years his junior. He did not confess the affair to his wife until 1999, when the couple filed for divorce. Gingrich married Bisek the following year, in August 2000.

Did he really leave his wife for another woman while she was recovering from cancer?
The story of Gingrich’s first divorce has followed him throughout his political life. The original source is a 1984 Mother Jones article, where a former Gingrich press secretary claimed that while Battley, his first wife, was recovering from surgery to remove a tumor, Gingrich went into her hospital room with a yellow legal pad to go over the divorce agreement and to get her signature. Battley later confirmed the visit but said they had already agreed to divorce and there was no legal pad.

Visit PARADE's Campaign Headquaters

What did he do before he entered Congress in 1978?
As a child, Gingrich was fascinated by dinosaurs and wanted to be a vertebrate paleontologist. He was so passionate about animals that at age 10, he took a bus to the Harrisburg city hall in order to lobby the mayor to open a zoo. Newt was 15 when he went on a family trip to a World War I battle site in Verdun, France, which changed his interests. In his 1984 book Window of Opportunity, he wrote that the trip “pushed me into history and politics,” believing that politicians could prevent such bloodshed from happening again. Gingrich graduated from Emory University with a degree in history in 1965. He continued studying and earned a Ph.D. in modern European history from Tulane University in 1971. He began teaching history at West Georgia College before running for Congress in 1974 against incumbent Jack Flynt, losing by only a few points. He ran and narrowly lost to Flynt again in 1976. He finally won the race for the Georgia 6th district in 1978.

What was the “Contract with America”?
Six weeks before the midterm election in September 1994, then-Minority Whip Gingrich and fellow Republicans released a “Contract with America,” a plan for how they would change government. In it, Republicans pledged to pass eight major reforms if they won the majority, among them cutting the number of House committees and limiting the terms of committee chairs. The contract also included 10 bills Republicans would pass in the first 100 days, including term limits for politicians and a balanced budget amendment. While the contract was key to victory for Republicans, most of it never became law as proposed. In fact, by 2000, the “budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13 percent,” according to Edward Crane of the Cato Institute.

Did he really propose sending children on welfare to orphanages?
Gingrich caused a stir in December of 1994 when he suggested states should send children on welfare to orphanages. He suggested First Lady Hillary Clinton rent the Mickey Rooney movie Boys Town, saying, “I don't understand liberals who live in enclaves of safety who say, 'Oh, this would be a terrible thing.’” The First Lady wrote a response in Newsweek that she said later curbed the debate. Congress passed a welfare reform act in 1996.

From PARADE's Interview Archives: Newt Fights for the Right

Why did he leave Congress?
After getting elected to Congress in 1978, he was voted speaker of the House after the 1994 midterm election that made Republicans the majority for the first time since 1954. During his time as speaker, he had 84 ethics complaints filed against him, including charges that he illegally used funds from tax-exempt organizations for political purposes. In January 1997, the House voted 395-28 to reprimand Gingrich and slapped him with a $300,000 penalty, the steepest penalty imposed on a speaker in the history of Congress. He avoided a full hearing into the charges by admitting guilt to one charge and agreeing to pay the fine. He remained speaker for another term, but after the Republican Party lost seats in the midterm elections, Gingrich announced his resignation from the House on Nov. 6, 1998. He retired at the end of the year.

(image) Gingrich and his wife Callista in November. [Getty Images]

What has he been doing since leaving Congress?
Since resigning from his seat in 1998, Gingrich has kept very busy. He has authored or co-authored 23 books. He founded the Center for Health Transformation, a think tank that looks for innovative solutions to health care problems. He was a fellow at several conservative think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution. He started several companies, including Gingrich Productions, a film and media company that has produced three films in the past four years, as well as Gingrich Group LLC, a for-profit company. In 2009, he embarked on a summer bus tour with Rev. Al Sharpton and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to champion President Barack Obama’s education initiatives, saying that the president showed “real courage” in promoting charter schools. He still supports Obama’s charter school plan.

Read Excerpts from Gingrich's Most Recent Books

How much is he worth?
According to the L.A. Times, Gingrich has a net worth of at least $6.7 million. In 2010 alone, he made $2.6 million. Most of it came from the Gingrich Group, LLC, and Gingrich Productions, Inc.

What was the issue with the Tiffany’s line of credit?
After Gingrich released his financial disclosure forms this summer in order to run for president, he revealed he had two lines of credit to Tiffany Co., the famed jewelry company, totaling up to $1.5 million. His campaign has not commented much on the lines of credit, other than to confirm they existed. His wife Callista has worn pieces of jewelry that are remarkably similar to Tiffany’s items, such as a $45,000 diamond necklace. In May, he told a crowd in Manchester, N.H., that, “people should be free to spend their own money the way they see fit.” Around the same time, he was spending his own money in another way—on a luxury cruise in the Greek isles with Callista. The vacation, for which Gingrich took two weeks off from the campaign just after announcing his candidacy, resulted in his top staff resigning en masse. Spokesman Rick Tyler, one of the staffers who quit, told the Washington Post that the vacation raised doubts that the candidate would “commit time to the grassroots.”

What was his role with housing agency Freddie Mac?
In a recent debate, Gingrich defended his ties to Freddie Mac, the housing-financing company that conservatives have repeatedly criticized, by saying he had acted as a “historian.” He was hired by the agency twice, in 1999 and in 2006. In 2006, he was brought on “to provide advice to the company on how leaders could present the firm in favorable ways to conservatives who were set on curbing its growth,” according to The Wall Street Journal. He was paid a reported $1.6 million for his advice.

Why did he appear in a climate-change commercial with Rep. Nancy Pelosi?
In 2007, Gingrich starred in a commercial with Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House, for Al Gore’s Project Climate campaign. In the ad, Pelosi and Gingrich say they agree that the government must take action on climate change. In November, Gingrich told Fox News that the commercial was “the dumbest single thing I’ve done.” More recently, he told radio host Glenn Beck, “First, I believe in the environment in general … Second, I think there is evidence on both sides of the climate change argument.”

Does he really want schoolchildren to work as janitors?
Last month, Gingrich told an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and inner-city students should be able to earn a paycheck by maintaining their schools. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor, and pay local students to take care of the school.” In an interview with WNYM, he followed up saying, “Kids shouldn't work in coal mines, kids shouldn't work in heavy industry,” but did not back down from saying that students should be able to work at their schools, including in the kitchen and library, for pay.

Does he support an individual mandate for health insurance?
One of the most controversial aspects of President Barack Obama’s health care plan has been the individual mandate, the law that people must buy health insurance if they can afford it, either through work or a health exchange. The president credits Republicans with the original idea, and specifically the conservative Heritage Foundation. Gingrich has expressed support for an individual mandate, most recently in a 2007 op-ed in which he called on Congress to, among other things, “require anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year to purchase health insurance or post a bond.” Since he began his presidential campaign, Gingrich has cooled on his support, saying in a recent debate he had only supported a mandate in the early 1990s to thwart then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal.

How did he end up leading the GOP race?
The former Speaker announced his candidacy on May 11, but it took some time for him to gain traction in the polls. His surge started in mid-November, and he topped the CNN poll for the first time November 21. The Washington Times has credited his rise to strong debate performances and to fizzling voter support for other candidates like Gov. Rick Perry or Herman Cain.

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Who has endorsed him so far?
Gingrich gained the endorsement of the influential New Hampshire newspaper the Union-Leader, but so far he is still light on endorsements in his presidential run. Only seven Congressional Republicans have signed on with the campaign, as opposed to Mitt Romney’s 51. All seven come from the House of Representatives, and four of them are congressmen from Gingrich’s home state of Georgia.

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