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House speaker calls for end to ‘obsessing on race’

June 19, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Suggesting that ``all of the set-aside programs in the world″ couldn’t change the poorest pockets of the nation, House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for a presidential panel examining racial problems to look past traditional methods often favored by the government.

``We have to have a profound fundamental rethinking of the assumptions that have not worked for 30 years,″ Gingrich said, calling for an end to racial quotas, preferences and set-asides in government contracts, hiring and university admissions.

``Obsessing on race will not allow us to move beyond race,″ he said. ``Perspiration and teamwork will dissolve racism faster than therapy and dialogue.″

In a speech Wednesday night before the Orphan Foundation, Gingrich questioned the goals of the advisory panel Clinton announced last Friday to kick off a yearlong campaign aimed at narrowing the racial divide in the United States.

``We thank the president for wishing to continue the dialogue on race last weekend, but frankly, there has been much talk on this issue and very little action of the sort which will dramatically change people’s lives,″ Gingrich said.

``Instead of focusing on broad sweeping generalizations about race, the president’s commission needs to focus on practical, doable, immediate action steps that can solve America’s problems,″ he said.

On education, Gingrich said the focus should be on what’s wrong with schools and overhaul them if necessary rather than lament about a precipitous drop in the admission of black students in the University of California system following the removal of racial quotas.

``The old way of thinking assumes this to be a racial problem that must be addressed in a race-specific manner,″ Gingrich said. ``That is exactly the wrong kind of thinking.″

Instead, the speaker suggested emulating the Chicago Bulls in their NBA championship playoffs with the Utah Jazz. He noted that Michael Jordan didn’t limit himself to looking for the closest black teammate in the closing moments last week.

``He looked for the nearest Chicago jersey. That happened to be Steve Kerr, who is white,″ Gingrich said. ``This is the example for society to follow _ a group of individuals so focused on a common goal of winning that they don’t have time to worry about what color the other guy is.″

As ``practical steps″ to build a more race-friendly country, Gingrich suggested that the advisory panel established by Clinton look at several measures being pushed by Republicans in Congress. Among them:

_Providing parents with vouchers to opt for public, private or parochial schools to give their children better opportunity to learn.

_Eliminating government-imposed barriers to entrepreneurship with the aim of tripling the number of minority-owned small businesses.

_Creating 100 ``Renewal Communities″ in poverty areas through targeted tax breaks, regulatory relief, low-income scholarships, home ownership opportunities and brownfields clean-ups.

_Clearing the existing backlog of discrimination cases now before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission prior to initiating new regulatory decrees.

_Adding a ``multiracial″ category to census and other government forms to begin phasing out ``the outdated, divisive and rigid classification of Americans.″

_Fostering and promoting innovative local job training, welfare-to-work and entry-level employment programs to move welfare recipients into the workforce.

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