Newt Gingrich

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at the Montana Republican Party Platform Convention in Missoula on Saturday.

Tom Bauer Missoulian

MISSOULA — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich teed off in Missoula Saturday on President Barack Obama’s plan, announced a day earlier, to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the United States if they came here as children.

“We do not have a commander-in-chief, we have a dreamer-in-chief,” Gingrich said in a reference to the “DREAM Act,” a failed congressional initiative that would have had a similar effect to the executive order Obama issued Friday.

Gingrich, the keynote speaker at the Montana Republican Convention in Missoula, proposed that conservatives likewise become dreamers. For instance, if GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney prevails over Obama in November, Romney should immediately, by executive order, allow people to opt out of paying income taxes, Gingrich said to laughter and applause.

Other dreams could include a federal Fish and Wildlife Service that “should only have common sense … an Environmental Protection Agency that will actually apply economics … a section that says children in very, very expensive unionized schools should actually learn,” he said.

Gingrich said his problem wasn’t so much with immigration reform — “I probably took the most pro-immigration reform” position among Republicans, he said — but in the way it was handled.

“We should be proud of the fact that as president, he has come up with a new interpretation of the Constitution which has no place in reality but which is politically among the most pathetic efforts to pander that we have ever seen,” he said. Although President George Bush frequently used signing statements and executive orders, such changes should only come with congressional approval, Gingrich said.

Gingrich touched on the need for energy independence — which, he said, lies in the exploding oil and natural development in North Dakota and eastern Montana, and spoke at length about the need for innovation free of the constraints of government regulation.

And he hammered at the need for a Republican-majority Senate to back up Romney. The House already has a Republican majority.

This state, he predicted, “will be a significant building block towards the majority to defeating Obama.”

That’s because of the fight over the Senate seat now held by Montana Democrat Jon Tester and sought by Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, already one of the more closely watched races in the country.

Gingrich made sure to mention Obama in the same breath as Tester as often as possible, and to portray both of them as straying far beyond liberal into outright radical territory.

“Sen. Tester will oppose and fight and contest every reform law by conservatives,” Gingrich said, “… and he’ll do it while sounding terrific at Rotary.”

Gingrich also spoke in support of GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill, a former congressman who served when Gingrich was House speaker.

Gingrich’s appearance launched the final day of the Montana Republican Party state convention.

His presence in a packed conference room at Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn had a twofold genesis, said Bowen Greenwood, Montana GOP executive director. Once Romney attained enough primary delegates to ensure his nomination, erstwhile rival Gingrich became a loyal surrogate, traveling the country to drum up support for the candidate.

And it didn’t hurt that Lee Bruner, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for state attorney general, was Gingrich’s campaign manager in Montana, he said.

The Romney campaign funded Gingrich’s travel and lodging in Montana. In turn, Gingrich spoke at a $45-a-head fundraising breakfast attended by several dozen party faithful in Missoula early Saturday, Greenwood said. In all, Saturday’s convention drew 500 participants.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268 or


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