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Newt finds new role

Newt Gingrich has been looking for a new place in the sun ever since he exited Congress in semi-disgrace in 1998.

The former speaker and congressman from Georgia may have found his latest calling. He could become the Great Healer of Washington's Moral Sickness - the anti-DeLay, anti-Abramoff Republican who could once again haul the GOP out of a ditch.

Gingrich could handle his new position best if he held public office. Some pundits mention Gingrich as a possible presidential candidate. That is absurd.

On the other hand, the presidential idea seems not quite so nutty since the Newtster publicly and vehemently staked out a national position against wholesale (or was it retail?) corruption in Congress. Gingrich was the first Republican big fish to dare to declare that accused crook Tom DeLay of Texas ought to quit as House Majority Leader.

Gingrich also has cozied up to a couple of real presidential wannabes, including Hillary Clinton, perhaps with an eye on joining the next administration. That won't work either. Newt doesn't look like a good fit in anybody else's White House.

Could he return to Georgia and run for Congress again - and start anew his march to the top?

My first answer: Nope. He has burned too many bridges.

My second answer: Why not? When he was top dog in the House, Gingrich amassed a stellar record as a Peach State representative. Military bases expanded, instead of closed. Federal dollars poured in. The Atlanta airport prospered and grew. Gingrich used his power to help his Georgia constituents. (Of course, he abandoned them in the end, but that is another story.)

Still, he was a talented leader, the likes of which we have not seen since. As Gingrich once modestly said of himself: "It seems to me that it all boils down to leadership. Not that I'm such a great leader. But I think I'm at least an inch or two above the others."

With a couple of possible exceptions, our current congressional band could be replaced by bleating sheep, and we would hardly know the difference.

Some of our lawmakers have raised eyebrows by donating to charity the campaign cash they received from the DeLay-Abramoff crowd. (Hey, fellas, if the money was dirty when you took it, giving it to the Red Cross does not make it clean now that you have been outed.)

Moreover, isn't it about time that the House members who were elected on Newt's term-limits platform honor that pledge and come home? Would it not be a fitting gesture of integrity for one of those longtimers to step aside to make way for the return of Gingrich?

You say I must be dreaming? You are right.

It took 40 years for a Gingrich to come along and push the Democrats' noses out of the House trough and let the GOP in. One is not likely to find a Republican incumbent now willing to step back for anybody, including his former generalissimo.

Even so, Gingrich, wherever he is, must be smiling. DeLay backstabbed Gingrich repeatedly when the speaker was on his last legs in Washington in the late 1990s. DeLay, along with his best bud, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, picked up Gingrich's mantle and ran with it.

Now, DeLay has been thrown over the side in the same manner that he fed Gingrich to the sharks. Tough-guy Abramoff, ratting out everybody who got close to him, is on his way to jail.

From this quick review, we can take away a couple of lessons. One relates to arrogance and the corruption of power.

Always keep in mind the "white-hat rule." Politicians and political operatives who wear their unforgiving piety on their sleeves (as DeLay and Abramoff did) inevitably crash and burn. The public and the body politic seem most unforgiving when their kind fall.

One other thing: If no congressman wants to give up his seat or Gingrich can't find another national forum, he might check out the contest for lieutenant governor back here in Georgia. An opening is coming up.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and his pals would be thrilled to have a guy like Newt back in Georgia campaigning for statewide office.

Of course, being lieutenant governor of Georgia is really small potatoes compared to the towers of power Gingrich formerly occupied. Nevertheless, a fellow looking for a fresh start has to seize opportunities where he can find them.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.