Keeping Up With . . . an Almost-Speaker

It's been a bit more than a year since revelations of marital infidelity led then-Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) to decline elevation to House speaker and then to leave Congress altogether.

Livingston, now with his own lobbying group, says he has no regrets about retiring because he had been planning to leave politics after nearly 22 years and enter the private sector. Of course, that was before then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said he would step down and the spotlight turned to Livingston.

"I don't have to meet bells, I have no more late nights and I'm making a lot more money," he said. "I'm back at Plan A," which was to leave the House.

"Plan B," also known as being third in line to the presidency, "was interesting, but I'm where I had planned to be anyway."

And what of that extraordinary week in December 1998 that culminated in President Clinton being impeached and Livingston announcing his withdrawal on the same day? "The week that was," he offered from his relatively new digs just three blocks from his former House office -- in a building across the street from the Democratic National Committee, a proximity he calls his "penance."

Despite his closeness to the Capitol, ethics laws impose a one-year moratorium on lobbying there, so he has been strategizing and handling administrative matters at his firm. Socializing with his former colleagues is permitted, but Livingston said he has kept that to a minimum.

And what has he discovered since leaving Congress? "I'm a workaholic, so I'm working like crazy," he said. "And I realize now that lobbyists work hard. Before, I thought the only work lobbyists did was show up to meet me for lunch."

Keeping Up With . . . an Ex-Speaker

Speaking of speakers, Gingrich was imparting wisdom over breakfast recently to senior executives in Silicon Valley, where he's been spending substantial time.

Gingrich, Loop Fans will recall from his early days, always had this futurist thing -- remember that flirtation with the ideas of Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock and The Third Wave? -- as part of his shtick.

So a speech titled "From the Hill to the Valley: How Washington policymakers are molding the new medium and affecting your bottom line" was classic Gingrich.

After all the hills and valleys he's traversed in the wild ride

to and from the speakership, he had plenty to say to the execs: "I was told that the Valley was the center of creativity on this planet," adding that he found it a lot like Florence at the beginning of the Renaissance -- "but it's like Florence without Michelangelo, Machiavelli or Leonardo da Vinci, because it's wealth without much articulation. It doesn't explain very well what's going to happen because it's too busy creating it."

Gingrich, who stepped down following the Republican Party's setbacks in the 1998 elections, apparently doesn't hold his former colleagues in the highest regard. "The ignorance of politicians" about high-tech matters, he said, "is the worst part [because they] don't understand the consequence of what they're doing."

Gingrich, who works several gigs, including at his own Atlanta-based communications and management consulting firm, said it was "the nature of those who represent the past" -- could he mean politicians? -- "to get angry at those creating the future, because it scares them."

But still, Silicon Valley must do better in explaining itself. "You can't sit here and thumb your nose at the rest of the country, because the country will find a way to get even," he said. "Giving to a PAC is the least important thing you can do. Create relationships to understand the other side." Emulate the dairy farmers, he said, "who are so well wired" into the political system.

So the key, he told the Silicon folks, is to find consultants and people skilled in government to bridge that gap and "create relationships."

Hmmm. Wonder where to find someone who could do that?

Huang's Epiphany

Another federal employee forced to leave government

service was in town recently to offer his observations on life in River City. John Huang, former Clinton campaign fund-raiser and political appointee at the Commerce Department, came to the House Government Reform Committee last month to testify about his illegal fund-raising activities.

At one point, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) asked Huang: "Looking back on your experiences at Commerce . . . and what you've been through . . . how do you feel today?"

"I really underestimated the culture of this town," Huang said. "It's very political, very territorial. So it's constantly a battle of trying to gain more either territory or gain more

visibility . . ."

"And I really had mixed feelings about a lot of political appointees," he said. Some of them have arrived here think-ing that it's a "hardship coming to work in Washington, D.C. They're trying to gain as much as they can during a short period of time" -- which means they're often fighting for turf and fancy titles to help them

on "a next level of career."

We're shocked . . .

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.