Historian's spouse to record Gingrich

January 09, 1995|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- In appointing an outspoken political supporter and former colleague from Georgia as the new House historian, Newt Gingrich is also gaining something no speaker has ever had: a personal "chronicler."

The new historian, 47-year-old Christina Jeffrey, an assistant professor of political science at Kennesaw State College in Georgia, where Mr. Gingrich once taught, said that her husband, Robert, also a professor from Georgia, would be "chronicling the speaker and doing for the Republicans what academics did for FDR."

"It hasn't been done as well by Republicans and has never been done on a day-to-day basis for a speaker," she said, "and Newt is very interested in that."

She said her husband, an assistant professor of political science at Dalton College in Georgia, would work without a salary. "This is an economy move for the House," said Mrs. Jeffrey, who will make $85,000 a year. "They are getting two academics for the price of one."

Nonetheless, the new House historian said yesterday in a telephone interview that while she was an avid supporter of Mr. Gingrich, she would run the historian's office in a bipartisan manner.

Mrs. Jeffrey was actually named House historian by Mr. Gingrich in mid-December, but her appointment was never officially announced and did not become public until a few days ago.

Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, said the husband-and-wife team "raises all the questions about a Gingrich machine being lodged in the House."

"I look in amazement at how effective he has been and see the extraordinary transition he has led, and then I get disappointed in his lapse in judgment," Mr. Mann said. "This is a very questionable appointment."

Mrs. Jeffrey said yesterday that as a political scientist at Kennesaw, situated in Mr. Gingrich's congressional district north Atlanta, she had supplied student interns for his district office. But she did not come to know him, she said, until he began teaching his course, "Renewing American Civilization," at the college in 1993.

While other professors opposed allowing a highly partisan elected official like Mr. Gingrich to teach at a publicly financed college, Mrs. Jeffrey supported him.

The course was financed by the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative research organization started by a longtime associate of Mr. Gingrich, and had links to his political action committee, GOPAC, which in the past kept its donors secret. The course and its financing are now being reviewed by the House ethics committee.

Mrs. Jeffrey said she believed in secret campaign financing because it protected contributors from revenge by incumbents. "I believe in leveling the playing field," she said. "I think incumbents have an unfair advantage, and that includes Newt Gingrich, and the disclosure laws increase that advantage.

"If I understand GOPAC," she added, "it's a way of getting around the campaign finance disclosure laws so people can contribute to challengers and they aren't necessarily identified as an enemy of the incumbent. I would support doing away with most campaign finance disclosure laws."

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are criticizing the appointment. Rep. David E. Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who is now the minority whip, said it showed "poor judgment."

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