Around noon on Friday, executives and lawmakers trickled into the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton where round tables awaited them, adorned with fruit parfaits, mixed green salads and signs that read “RESERVED” and “Pfizer.” Newt Gingrich was to deliver the closing keynote speech during this final lunch (“Sponsored by AT&T”) at TPPF’s legislative policy orientation.
His podium was nestled between two screens, which flashed the names of patrons and underwriters like “PBA: Professional Beauty Association,” “StateFarm,” “SouthWest Water Company” and “Texas Association of Health Underwriters: Protecting the Consumer’s Future.”
Gingrich was introduced by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Echoing Perry’s sentiments in the opening keynote speech, Dewhurst lauded Texas’ business focus and conservative policies. “My friends, it doesn’t get any better fiscally,” he said. “As lieutenant governor, I’ve tried to do four things over the last nine years.” He went on to detail his attempts to keep spending low, keep taxes low, maintain a light regulatory hand and keep the government “out of the way” of major corporations.
And then he brought up gun rights. It might have been a more graceful segue if he’d said, “Speaking of education, let’s talk about Newtown.” As he spoke of the tragedy, he suggested an increase in the number of weapons in public schools. “In state law right now, we give the option to independent school boards to authorize school personnel to carry concealed weapons in public schools if they take and pass the concealed handgun license,” he said.
“The school in Connecticut was locked down; the gunman broke a window and got in. In Columbine, where this horrible cycle arguably started, there were police in the school; they just couldn’t get to those rooms.”
“What I’m suggesting,” he continued, “is for the state to pay for robust training for those personnel that are authorized by the school boards to carry concealed weapons so that they can protect themselves and they can protect the children.”
Dewhurst, in keeping with his rightward lurch, raised the prospect of requiring Texans applying for welfare and unemployment benefits to get drug-tested.
“I’m not going to pay for people to stay at home, sit on the couch, and do drugs,” Dewhurst said. The audience erupted in applause.
Next up was Gingrich, who gave a meandering speech that touched on the magic of cell phone technology, his love of Texas and the progressive nature of oil. Gingrich said he was pleased to “hear Texans talk about how many extra jobs they attract and how many new people are moving in, and what a great business economy” the state enjoys.
According to Gingrich, the rest of the nation has “the wrong values, and they measure the wrong things…It’s driving people to Texas.”
Innovation, he said, “is happening with such speed, despite the Left.” He continued: “You know, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned because Obama wasn’t going to go overboard enough to slow down the future.”
“Well, the future is going to come anyways.”
Perhaps mindful of the hearty applause Dewhurst received, Gingrich also sounded the drug-test-the-unemployed theme. “How can you subsidize people who do nothing?” Gingrich asked the room.
“When you get done watching all the dismal news from Washington…this is a country of 311 million people who have a deep cultural desire to pursue happiness. We are an inherently energetic, optimistic, risk-taking society and all of the effort of the Left has done very much to undermine that.”
As he concluded, Gingrich proclaimed of Republicans, “We will be the movement and the party of the future.”