Lobbyist Livingston, I Presume

Now that Newt the Brute has been rendered mute by the jack boot of House-Speaker-to-be Bob Livingston, it is worth savoring the Louisiana Republican’s peculiar route to the top. As both the New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune have reported, Livingston was poised early this year to abandon the House and pursue his true ambition–raking in the big bucks as a Washington lobbyist. As the Times-Picayune put it, “[Livingston] complained increasingly about how difficult it was for him and [his wife] Bonnie to raise four children on his $136,000 House salary while living in the expensive Washington area. He sometimes grumbled to friends that he could be making the same as the well-heeled lobbyists who daily clamored for meetings with him.”

In the version of the story that Chatterbox heard, Gingrich himself convinced Livingston to seek another House term with a promise to make him speaker in 1999 when Newt resigned to run for president. Livingston mounted his rebellion only when it seemed evident that Newt was in no hurry to ever relinquish the speaker’s gavel. Friday, during his final desperate hours in power, Gingrich threatened Livingston with the Washington version of “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” Gingrich aides, according to the Times, warned the ungrateful Livingston that he his insurgency would cause him to lose “any chance at lucrative success in the congressional lobbying career he might see in his future.”

So for the moment, Livingston is presumably satisfied with his new $175,000 salary as speaker, plus the car and driver that come with the office. But Chatterbox is predicting that Livingston’s new power and perks will only be a temporary balm. If the Democrats win back the House in 2000, Livingston will quickly decide that he can make a seven-figure living as a K Street lobbyist. Leave it to the anything-for-a-buck Republicans to elect a speaker who is merely marking time and collecting chits for his eagerly awaited second career in the private sector.

Walter Shapiro