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A Change in Power Now, Optimistic Conservative Message Still Needed

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

My first memory of a congressional swearing in dates back to Jan. 3, 1979, when members of the 96th Congress took the oath. My father, Newt Gingrich, was among them. After losses in 1974 and 1976, he had finally won the seat for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, to become the sole Republican congressman or senator from the Peach State.

After the election, our family moved from Georgia to Northern Virginia. My mother drove with my sister in the 1978 light blue Chevrolet Impala, while my father drove with me in the 1969 red Volkswagen Beetle. When we reached our new neighborhood, we slid on the snow and ice into a stop sign. Luckily, we were moving slowly, so there was no damage.

I was young enough to accompany my father on the floor of the House that first day while he and the 434 other representatives were sworn in. It was exciting, my father -- full of energy and ideas -- beginning a life of public service. While he was a member of the minority party (there were 277 Democratic House members and 158 Republican House members when the 96th Congress began), he was full of optimism for our country.

Two years later, the nation elected as president Ronald Reagan, whose message of optimistic conservatism resonated with voters weary of the economic and political challenges of the Carter administration.

This week, as much of the rest of the nation is packing up Christmas ornaments, trees and lights, the 112th Congress was sworn in. After the Republican victory in the midterm elections, the House of Representatives transitions from a Democratic-led institution to a Republican-led body.

I'm writing this a few moments before it happens, but here is what most likely occurred. The recently elected House members gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives. They stood on the blue carpet with red emblems, faced the rostrum and the flag of the United States of America hanging behind the speaker's chair, with the words "In God We Trust" engraved above.

The oath of office they swore to is as follows, "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

The swearing-in, like most ceremonies, is full of tradition, pomp and circumstance. After the members are sworn in, the vote for the speaker of the House is taken. This year, it passed from Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to John Boehner, R-Ohio.

For the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, the U.S. Constitution will be read on the floor of the House during its first week of activity. Since this is the document that members of Congress have sworn to "support and defend," it is right and fitting that they take the time to remind themselves of their duties as elected officials.

Additional rule changes that will be voted on by the new House of Representatives should result in transparency and effectiveness. Under the new rules, bills and joint resolutions will be required to include a citation on the authority of the Congress to pass such legislation as proposed under the Constitution.

Congressional committees will be required, when practical, to provide audio or video of proceedings. Committee chairmen will have term limits.

Additionally, any former member or spouse who is a "lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 or any successor statute or agent of a foreign principal" will not be able to use the House exercise facility.

Other changes to be made include renaming committees: The "Committee on Education and Labor" will become the "Committee on Education and the Workforce;" the "Committee on Standards of Official Conduct" will become the "Committee on Ethics;" the "Committee on Science and Technology" will become the ''Committee on Science, Space and Technology."

Of the 435 representatives taking the oath of office in the House of Representatives this week, 242 are Republicans and 193 are Democrats. A lot has changed since January 1979: Both of the senators and eight of the 13 representatives from Georgia are Republicans.

What has not changed is the nation's need for an optimistic, conservative message.

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