Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Your Daily Newt: The Iceman Cometh

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich led Republicans into power in 1994 on the promise of sweeping, transformational change—entire departments would be eliminated or consolidated, taxes would be slashed, the "corrupt welfare state" would be a thing of the past. That didn't quite work out. So as conservatives sought to keep their grip on Congress two years later, Gingrich instead sought to win the hearts and minds of voters through props.

Leading up to the 1996 election, Gingrich criss-crossed the country brandishing a white bucket, as a symbol of how Gingrich had cut bureaucratic waste by eliminating an anachronistic ice delivery service to congressional offices. Dating back to before the advent of refrigeration, ice had been delivered via white buckets to each office twice a day at no cost. Gingrich boasted that the program had cut $400,000 per year from the federal budget by eliminating 23 paid staff positions. "If there was any one symbol I wish we could be remembered by, I believe it should be an ice bucket," Gingrich said at the time. "We didn't authorize a study, we didn't phase it out, we didn't call for a training program, we just went cold turkey."

"If there was any one symbol I wish we could be remembered by, I believe it should be an ice bucket," said Gingrich.

It was, to be sure, an absurd perk. One Democratic aide told the New York Times in 1994 that, "We tried to get it stopped, but it keeps coming—from the ice machine in the heavens, I guess"; the paper found no compelling reason why the deliveries still continued, but noted that Hill sources said "it is unacceptable for lawmakers to drink warm soda."

But, bucket-tour notwithstanding, Gingrich didn't actually end the free ice service at the Capitol; he just created a new system. Under Gingrich's watchful eye, Congress set up five ice distribution centers around the Capitol complex, so that staffers could haul their daily load of ice back to the offices. The ice was still free, in other words, and it was still being distributed. According to Roll Call at the time, Gingrich was himself taking advantage of the free ice entitlement he derided, dispatching a staffer to the ice distribution center twice a day to fill a bucket. And he wasn't the only politician making the ice bucket a campaign issue. His Democratic opponent in 1996, Michael Coles, duly noted that while the Speaker had chipped $400,000 off the ice entitlement block, "Mr. Gingrich increased his office budget by $600,000—a difference, measured in ice terms, of more than 130,000 bags of ice."

This is not a dog, but you get the point.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

In 2009—shortly after accidentally naming the founder of Pink Visual, a California porn superstore, "Entrepreneur of the Year"—Newt Gingrich's Business Defense and Advisory Council accidentally bestowed the same award to the Dallas strip club "The Lodge." Or tried to, anyway. Dawn Rizos, the club's owner, received a letter out of the blue from Gingrich's 527, American Solutions for Winning the Future, informing her that "Newt is looking forward to finally meeting you face to face"—and asking for her to make a $5,000 contribution to the group in order to attend. She happily obliged and booked her travel arrangements, only to find that her invitation was rescinded and her donation returned.

But all was not lost. After receiving her refund, Rizos decided to take her $5,000 and put it good use in a way that would honor the man who'd spurned her: She built a shelter for pit bulls, "Newt's Nook," at the Animal Guardians sanctuary 35 minutes north of Dallas. As Pegasus News explained:

The Lodge, the country’s best-known and most-honored gentlemen’s club, helps hundreds of people support their families and further their educations, while setting industry standards for beauty, elegance and integrity.

"So we weren’t surprised to get the award, and we were disappointed to suddenly be rejected," Rizos said. "But instead of holding a grudge, we decided to make something positive out of his bad manners."

Gingrich, for his part, recently launched the webite "Pets With Newt," which invites supporters to "send photos of your pet," and includes a list of Newt's 12 favorite zoos ("The Omaha Zoo is one of the three best zoos in America. Its nocturnal house is the best in the world.") Perhaps Rizos will get another shot at Gingrich's endorsement.

Arizona sold off $735 million worth of state property in 2009.

State governments have taken a number of different steps to balance their books in recent years. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (remember him?) proposed a new tax on strip clubs, for example, and a Utah state rep. suggested saving $60 million per year by abolishing the 12th grade. But no proposal struck as much metaphorical gold as Arizona's decision to sell off the state capitol (and a whole bunch of other state properties, such as maximum security prisons) for $735 million in 2009. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed off on the deal, and the state now leases the House and Senate chambers from a private real estate company at a considerable long-term cost.

But now, presumably still a little embarrassed by the whole episode, presented with the unfamiliar feeling of cash on hand, and rapidly approaching the state's 100th birthday, Brewer wants the Arizona capitol back in the hands of Arizonans. Here's the Yuma Sun:

The move will cost the state $105 million out of its current budget surplus. Brewer press aide Matthew Benson said the state has the cash.

Benson acknowledged the state actually got only $81 million for the state House, the Senate and the nine-story executive tower that includes Brewer's office when it negotiated a "sale-leaseback" arrangement in 2010...

"Most of our Capitol complex, including the building we gather in today, is not ours,'' Brewer said in her State of the State speech delivered in the House building. "So ... to make all of our Capitol truly ours once again, I'm asking that you send me a bill by Statehood Day that allows me to buy back the Capitol.''

Arizona's decision to sell off its state capitol to a private real estate company was perhaps the greatest drunken eBay transaction of all time, except in this case there was no booze involved, and the whole arrangement was justified on the grounds of austerity and small government. That said, buying back the capitol isn't a terrible idea.

Variations on a theme: Grant Wood's American Gothic (left), and the label for New Hampshire-based Smuttynose IPA

New Hampshire voters are different than you. So we've been told, anyway. "New Hampshire voters are no pushovers," writes the Los Angeles Times, informing us the the residents of the Granite State are, variously, "cranky," "obdurate," and "independent." They're also "Yankee stoics," "no-nonsense," and "rock-ribbed," adds McClatchy's David Lightman. Conservative talk radio host Mark Steyn calls New Hampshirites "crusty," "cranky," and "contrarian." Hardball host Chris Matthews attempted to sum up the state's electorate as "real," "American," and "flinty." "We take the vetting of the candidates very seriously," says Republican Kelly Ayotte, the state's junior senator.

New Hampshire voters are many things (or at least many different varieties of rock), but one thing they are absolutley not is Iowan. That's the message that's seeped out over the last 12 months or so from politicians, editorial boards, and even a few candidates. "They pick corn in Iowa; they pick presidents in New Hampshire," said Jon Huntsman, who's banking his presidential fortunes on the relative cranky flintiness of Granite State residents. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell best captured the conventional wisdom, explaining that, contra New Hampshire, Iowa is "too white, too evangelical, too rural" to make much of a difference on the GOP nominating race. (New Hampshire is 93.9 percent white; Iowa is 91 percent).

But are they really so different? My colleague Andy Kroll busted the myth of New Hampshire maverick voter on Friday. And a quick comparison of the two states' legislative activity over the last three years reveals some serious overlap. Is Iowa the crazy one? Or was it New Hampshire? Match the nutty proposal with the appropriate state:

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