Last Saturday, my family and I faced a big decision about how we can best serve America.
Before the opening of Solutions Day on Thursday, the success of Solutions Day and the American Solutions movement to create real change with real solutions was unknowable. But by Saturday morning, the verdict on the American people's desire to actively participate in creating the next generation of solutions to the daunting challenges America faces was in.
American Solutions had resonated with and had captured the imagination of the American public, and it became clear Saturday that American Solutions would be an active and successful voice in the American dialogue going forward.
That left us with a choice on how best to serve: Move forward with assessing a Gingrich candidacy for President of the United States with its uncertain outcome; or remain the citizen leader of American Solutions for Winning the Future, which has now proven to be an organization that will play a major role in shaping the 2008 election debate and beyond by offering solutions and representing millions of Americans who want real change.
Some have asked why I couldn't have explored the possibility of running and remained the Chairman of American Solutions. The fact is -- because of the current, misguided and destructive campaign finance laws, as well as the willingness of some to make misguided allegations without knowing all the facts -- if I had decided to explore being a candidate, it would have become necessary to sever my relationship with American Solutions to protect it from false allegations of being used as a devise to promote the feasibility of my candidacy, which is not permissible under the law. Moreover, under those same destructive campaign finance laws, I would have had to absolutely sever all ties with American Solutions to guard against allegations that I was "coordinating" with the group I had help found. This would have left American Solutions which is less than a year old, without a leader and, therefore, extremely vulnerable to failure.
As of Saturday, thousands of people from all across the nation came together to make Solutions Day the incredible success that it was. That would not have happened without the untold number of volunteer hours spent, the talent of the board, the millions of dollars donors invested and the incredible professionalism of the American Solutions staff led by Dave Ryan and Pat Saks.
I was not willing to sacrifice American Solutions and its future potential to change American for the better for what would have been an uncertain run to be President.
I have said all along that the agent of change was not the presidency but the more than 513,000 elected officials and millions of citizen activists. I still believe that change will not come from Washington but from the American people, and we proved it over the weekend. Let me just share with you what would have been sacrificed if I had abandoned leadership of the American Solutions movement.
The Inaugural Solutions Day Begins a National Movement to Win the Future
Last week, almost 200,000 Americans visited our website, AmericanSolutions.com, to learn about the inaugural Solutions Day, which had more than 35 workshops from six different locations in different parts of the country and more than 2,000 gathering sites around the nation -- and that did not including any of the individuals watching independently either online or via satellite television. To give you an idea of how operationally big the challenge was, it was the equivalent of producing 35 television shows with substantive content to be broadcast live within five hours, and we did it without a technical glitch that led to an interruption of any workshop.
It all began Thursday night with a nationally televised opening at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta, Ga. So great was the response that we had to expand the ballroom we were in by removing a wall and setting up more chairs, but even so, it was standing room only. More than 1,200 people came to the Cobb Galleria for Solutions Day. Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams emceed with great enthusiasm, which he said came from the audience. Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Democratic Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, former Gov. Roy Romer and Kellyanne Conway all joined me in helping launch American Solutions as a positive idea-and-solution-oriented movement to change America.
On Saturday, the bipartisan American Solutions effort featured former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer (the head of Edin08) leading an education workshop in Denver and Elaine Kamarck, the former head of Vice President Al Gore's Reinventing Government project, leading a workshop on how to replace bureaucracy with 21st Century approaches to governance.
Adding to the solution-oriented series of programs were two income tax replacement models. Former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey discussed the optional flat tax and in another workshop, Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder discussed the Fair Tax. Students for Saving Social Security led a workshop for optional personal Social Security Retirement Savings Accounts. Former Congressman Bob Walker discussed the impact of a hydrogen economy as part of our energy future as well as the future of space exploration. Conservationist and former ZooAtlanta director Terry Maple led a workshop on "green conservatism."
Congressman Brian Bilbray led a workshop from San Diego on immigration and protecting the border. David Barton of WallBuilders presented a workshop from Des Moines, Iowa, on Rediscovering God in America. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee taught his workshop from New Hampshire.
The Center for Health Transformation developed the health materials for the workshops and, by last Saturday, presented 28 different topics on health transformation, including ideas from former Gov. Jeb Bush discussing Medicaid reform in Florida and Gov. Tim Pawlenty doing the same thing in Minnesota.
The center had also recruited national figures such as Dr. Mark McClellan, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration and of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Julie Gerberding to outline specific areas of health progress.
All 35 workshops are available for viewing at AmericanSolutions.com. Also, be sure to check out the lists of "go-dos" that workshop moderators included to bring about real change in our communities.
The Choice and Making the Right Decision
On Saturday morning, as Callista and I were on our way to the University of West Georgia in Carrollton where I was speaking and where many of the workshops were preparing to get underway, we were confronted with a choice: I could continue to lead what I believe will be the most successful movement for change in a generation or I could abandon that effort to pursue the uncertain road of running for President.
As you know, an effort to assess a Gingrich candidacy was to have begun today, Monday, October 1, two days after the completion of Solutions Day. That assessment was to discern whether there was sufficient support for a candidacy. My decision not to seek the presidency preempted that effort. Because it never began, the outcome of such an assessment can never be fully known, but I was humbled by the messages of support and by the people who said they would be willing to make a pledge to raise resources had I elected to run.
We do know that we could have met Federal Election Commission requirements and that there would have been sufficient resources to start filing for primaries on October 15 (the Utah deadline, the earliest in the country).
We also knew from recent trips to the Republican Conference on Mackinac Island, Mich., and the conservative dinner for the Nevada Policy Research Institute that there was and is a hunger for new ideas and new energy in the race.
I had said publicly for months that I was committed to focusing on American Solutions and the success of Solutions Day and would not begin to assess a candidacy until after the completion of the workshops Saturday, September 29. And that is what I did. I did not and would not take a single step toward running before Saturday.
Late last week, I outlined a process by which an assessment headed by my friend and advisor Randy Evans could begin, but my directions were clear: No activity could take place before Monday, October 1.
Randy was prepared to take leave, if necessary, from his law firm to complete the assessment.
I had suspended my relationship as a contributor with Fox News until the results of the assessment were known.
As of yesterday, a website, NewtNow.org, was preparing to launch.
On Saturday morning, Callista and I fully expected to see Randy hold a press conference on Monday to announce the website and explain why we had established $30 million in pledges as the threshold for running.
I will tell you that like most middle-class Americans, I cannot afford to match someone like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's ability to write a $100 million personal check, which is permissible under the law to support his campaign. I reasoned, therefore, that if we could find enough pledges to mount a serious effort, I would consider a campaign focused on solutions, using new communications approaches in order to have a genuinely solutions-oriented dialogue with the American people.
The Most Open and Non-Partisan 527 to Date
The still-open question was whether we could do both. As American Solutions emerged on September 27 and 29, our legal advisers fully assessed the McCain-Feingold censorship law on the simultaneous activities of the newly conceived candidacy assessment and my desire to continue leading American Solutions and what implications, legal and otherwise, that would have on American Solutions were I to become a candidate.
American Solutions is technically organized as a 527. That means it can raise unlimited personal and corporate after tax dollars. However, it cannot engage in federal campaign activities. American Solutions had been designed as a unique non-partisan institution -- the only 527 of its kind.
Every aspect of American Solutions and how it operates is well within the law -- even though I disagree strongly with the law.
Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and independents were invited to present Solutions Day workshops.
Similarly, anyone could join in the program as a viewer by signing up without regard to party affiliation.
Over the next few weeks, American Solutions plans to release the results of six national polls and $250,000-plus worth of research to the candidates of both parties and will post it on the Internet for everyone to see and use.
I am proud to say that American Solutions for Winning the Future is the most open, transparent and non-partisan 527 in existence.
Under the McCain-Feingold Censorship Law, We Could Raise Money or Raise Ideas -- Not Both.
I became all too familiar with political attempts to censure citizens when I taught a class called Renewing American Civilization at Kennesaw College in Georgia when I was Speaker of the House. Even though I had been a college teacher for eight years and had a Ph.D. in Modern European History, some did not like the fact that I was teaching a course on a college campus. A full-scale attack was launched on me and ethics charges in the House soon followed. Ultimately, the bipartisan ethics committee, a federal judge and the IRS reached the same conclusion that should have be obvious all along: There is nothing unethical or unlawful about a former college teacher with a Ph.D. teaching a non-partisan class to college students. That was more than a decade ago, and McCain-Feingold has only made it worse by what I can only describe as criminalizing citizenship participation in civic affairs and the right to free speech.
But the law is the law whether I agree with it or not. With the success of American Solutions and the recognition that it will be a viable enterprise going forward, it became clear Saturday that I could not under the McCain-Feingold censorship law, the current law governing campaign finance, participate in leading American Solutions while exploring a candidacy because quite simply, under McCain Feingold, it would have been illegal. Moreover, I would have put American Solutions at risk for politically motivated attacks and endless investigations not based upon facts but based upon the desired political outcomes of those who seek to protect the status quo from citizen activists who desire real change.
The whole purpose of a presidential race for me would be to bring new solutions and new ideas into the political arena.
But under McCain-Feingold, I had to choose between being creative and being a candidate. I could raise money or raise ideas, but not both.
I am not willing to subject the American Solutions team to wither under endless attacks and politically charged investigations with criminal penalties including jail time. Moreover, I am not willing to abandon our supporters, donors, volunteers and staff who have made American Solutions the success that it is.
For me, it was impossible to imagine walking into this extraordinarily successful gathering with its amazing number of workshops and remarkable nationwide participation (all 50 states) in its very first outing, only to announce we were going to shut it down.
We Need Three or Four Years to Develop a New Generation of Solutions
Once we fully understood the legal and other implications that running would have on American Solutions and what I expect it will become, Callista and I had to make a choice between these mutually exclusive opportunities. We immediately decided that our authentic path was to keep growing and developing American Solutions. The decision was immediate, unequivocal and without regret.
We need three or four years to build the American Solutions movement into the kind of broad non-partisan movement for real change that America so desperately needs.
We need three or four years to develop a new generation of solutions for the poorest Americans and the worst neighborhoods in our biggest cities.
We need time to flesh out and develop in-depth the Green Conservatism Terry Maple and I write about in Contract With the Earth, which will come out later this month.
We need time to expand on the work which the Center for Health Transformation has been doing to develop a science and technology based and entrepreneurially led 21st Century Intelligent Health System.
Our decision last Saturday not to run was not a step away from active citizenship.
It was a positive decision that, for now, our best efforts should be as solutions oriented and idea oriented citizen activists working with all Americans who want to develop real change for America. I am entirely optimistic about the future.
It was the right decision.
A Final Note on McCain-Feingold
You've heard me say it before: The McCain-Feingold censorship law should be repealed.
It has actually made politics more focused on money.
One presidential candidate told me Saturday that I was right about the focus on money and that he had done 68 fundraisers in the last month.
And the very idea of limiting free speech is not only unconstitutional, it's un-American.
I have no problem with wealthy Americans spending millions of their own money if their middle-class opponents can raise the same size contributions from their supporters.
I object deeply, however, to a system that makes it almost impossible for middle-class candidates to raise money and that is rapidly moving us towards a plutocracy in which only the rich can compete for office.
This cycle's presidential campaign is a year longer than it should be because of the terrible burdens on fund raising created by McCain-Feingold.
We need a simple system that says Americans can spend any amount of their after-tax income they want as long as campaigns reports each night every check that was deposited that day on the Internet so the country knows where the money is coming from.
That would be transparent, simple and fair.
It would shorten campaigns.
It would level the playing field between the rich and the middle class.
It would allow candidates to return to studying issues and thinking deeply about policies instead of exhausting themselves begging for money three or four times a day, seven days a week.
The simple act of repealing McCain-Feingold and replacing it with that straightforward, transparent system of reporting would make our politics healthier and more idea oriented in a matter of weeks.
In that world, it would be possible to both work with a solutions based organization seeking solutions and be a candidate for public office.