Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series exploring Sarah Palin’s qualifications for the presidency.
Qualification: An essential skill, quality, or attribute that makes somebody suitable for a job, activity, or task.
The opinion leaders sincerely want to know whether Governor Sarah Palin is “qualified” to run for president. Why else would they keep asking the question, right? So … let’s examine a few of Palin’s populist credentials that stack up surprisingly well against the more conventional resumes of five recent presidents.
1. Ten years in municipal government.
For all their heroics in state legislatures, governorships, and the hallowed halls of Harvard, Yale and the Naval Academy, none of the five presidents pictured above spent so much as one day in municipal government. And while it may not be sexy or glamorous — municipal government affects our day-to-day lives in significant ways: the amount of sales tax we pay, our property tax burden, the quality of our children’s public schools — our city parks, streets and amenities — and the safety of our neighborhoods and drinking water. Municipal government determines whether our community welcomes free enterprise or creates unnecessary barriers to commerce.
As a mayor and city manager for six years, Sarah Palin presided over an $11 million operating budget in Wasilla, Alaska. Serving as her city’s youngest chief executive, Palin supervised city personnel, made hiring and firing decisions, and drafted detailed financial documents. In one such 200-page budget report, Palin described her governing approach as “parsimonious” (i.e frugal). Indeed, Parsimonious Palin held the line on city expenses, cut key tax rates, and prioritized the core infrastructure spending (sewer, roads, and city services) that would best facilitate business development. Because of the lower burdens levied on business, she was able to help spur growth in her city, making it one of the fastest growing cities not just in Alaska, but in America.
Palin calls municipal governance a “great training ground” for national leaders – if they’re willing to start out small, as she did on the city council for four years. “In local politics, your constituents are your neighbors,” Palin told an audience in Hollister, Mo. in December 2009. “You see them in the grocery store. It’s why local government is the most responsive level of government.” At a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in Salina, Kansas in February of 2010, she also reminded her audience that prosperity comes from the ground up — not from a bureaucrat’s office thousands of miles away: “We can’t legislate economic growth from Washington,” she said. “A favorable economic climate needs to be started at the local level.”
2. Ten years volunteer work in the Parent-Teacher-Association.
Scoff if you like, but just about every president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama has proclaimed himself to be the “Education President.” Yet none of our erstwhile scholars logged any meaningful minutes in the largest volunteer child advocacy and grassroots educational policy organization in the world. (Bill Clinton did note in his ’92 nominating speech that Hillary attended PTA meetings as Arkansas’ first lady.)
Official records show that Palin was an active member of the Iditarod PTA during her time as the mayor of Wasilla, and we know from her memoir, Going Rogue, that she served in the PTA during her years on the city council as well.
Anyone laboring in the one-million-strong PTA quickly learns the value of volunteerism, parental support, and fundraisers. It’s like community organizing — but with baked goods. While demonstrating support for local schools, PTA volunteers also learn the limits of federal intervention: the federal Department of Education currently spends roughly $50 billion annually on education, nearly double the inflation-adjusted per pupil amount spent in 1980 while almost no one believes that our children are twice as well-educated. As the mother of five children, including a special-needs child, Palin knows parental involvement, choice, and competition in the the schools is the only way to guarantee kids’ educational success. And unlike any of the other dudes to occupy the White House recently, she has the street cred to talk about it — if anyone wants to listen.
3. Two years pro-life advocacy.
Barack Obama famously gave a speech to an anti-war rally in Chicago in 2002 that put him on a breakneck path toward the presidency. The anti-war stance he articulated that day as a state legislator differentiated him in a key way from primary opponents who, as actual members of the U.S. Senate at the time, had voted to authorize what later became an overwhelmingly unpopular war with Iraq.
Palin gave a similar career-defining, path-altering speech to a pro-life group in Evansville, Ind., in April of 2009. Already a pro-life heroine since giving birth to her two-year-old son, Trig, Palin’s emotional speech in Evansville that April day signaled her transformation from a regional phenomenon and vice presidential candidate into a national conservative powerhouse (although some would argue that moment occurred when she delivered her flawless convention speech on Sept. 3, 2008). Since that day in Evansville, and after reluctantly resigning the governorship several months later, Palin has delivered more than 100 inspiring speeches across the country, many of them to pro-life groups. This dedicated advocacy the past two years compliments her decades-long support for the life issue.
Why is pro-life advocacy a qualification to be president? Because a majority of Americans are, in fact, pro-life. So many of us are actually mortified by the reality that Obamacare will provide federal funds for abortion — despite assurances that it would not. Traditional swing states such as Maine, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio have just elected pro-life governors in 2010. And while we have elected pro-life presidents before, Palin reflects our values in a manner not seen before in a major female politician. Should she run, Palin’s common sense, pro-life position would stand in contrast to GOP primary opponents who have shown a willingness to flip-flop on the life issue depending on their audience. Moreover, her compassionate and humane position on abortion would stand in stark opposition to the extremist record of our current president who voted four times to deny care to babies born in botched abortions — the only member of the Illinois legislature to do so.
Indeed, to this perennially divisive “wedge” issue, Palin brings unique character, conviction and wisdom. As the youngest and first female governor of a male-dominant state, she possesses the potential to inspire women of all political backgrounds to consider childbirth as an empowering act. Perhaps unlike any politician before her, Palin bears witness every day that an unexpected child — even in the midst of a fulfilling and challenging career — can bring unimaginable joy.
4. One year as an oil and gas commissioner.
None of our recent presidents had any experience as full-time regulators prior to becoming president. Why is this significant? Because the federal government is currently regulating the energy industry (and many other industries) to death. From offshore drilling bans, to locking up ANWR, to the failure to approve nuclear power permits and clean-coal projects, our federal government has essentially tied up the energy industry in this country at the behest of the radical environmental lobby and to the detriment of our energy independence.
Sarah Palin knows firsthand the gentle balance between holding huge multinational companies accountable and strangling resource development. As a state oil and gas commissioner she blew the whistle on unethical relationships between the Alaskan Republican party and the Big Oil lobby, resigning in protest from her $122,400-a-year-job when her boss and predecessor, Gov. Frank Murkowski, did not investigate the corruption.
As the wife of an oil field worker, Palin also knows the economic and practical value of allowing Americans to ethically develop our God-given resources in an environmentally-responsible manner. As governor, she helped unlock drilling in new areas of her state, and negotiated a long-stalled pipeline project that would supply trillions of cubic feet of clean natural gas to the Lower 48. As an experienced regulator, Palin would be in a better position than any recent president (including oil-man George W. Bush) to reign in over-regulation while preserving the watchdog role of our federal regulators. She would not be inclined to take an all-or-nothing approach to government oversight. Nor would she follow the enigmatic path of our current President, who accepts shocking amounts of campaign cash from oil companies while vilifying all of them indiscriminately and enacting arbitrary, job-killing drilling bans.
When it comes to the oil and gas industry, Palin likely would hew to the approach taken by Ronald Reagan in dealing with the Soviets: “Trust, but verify.” This, along with Palin’s forward-looking call for 50% renewable energy in her state, constitutes the kind of unique pragmatic leadership she could bring to a perennially dysfunctional energy discussion.
5. Two and a half years governing the largest state in America.
Alaska may be a small state population-wise, although the Last Frontier does boast 70,000 more people than Vermont and 40,000 more residents than North Dakota. But Alaska’s massive size and geo-strategic position requires the administrative skill one might need governing a small country. Indeed, the state of Alaska boasts roughly twenty percent of the land mass of the entire USA. It features the longest maritime border in the nation, is home to diverse native populations in remote villages, and shares land and water borders with Canada and Russia. Alaska holds 20% of the nation’s crude oil reserves, and hosts the 49th Missile Defense Battalion in Fort Greely, one of only two permanently active guard units in the country. The Alaska National Guard also partially supplies the staff of the U.S./Canadian NORAD center that orders active duty fighters to intercept aerial threats.
As her state’s chief executive, Palin not only oversaw 15,000 state employees and a $12 billion budget, she was immersed in the threats facing our nation as her state is the first line of defense against rogue ballistic and nuclear weapons that might be fired from North Korea or the former Soviet Union. As governor, she received national security briefings and traveled to Kuwait in support of the Alaska National Guard in 2007. When President Obama and his administration proposed $1.4 billion in cuts in missile defense in March of 2009, Gov. Palin spoke out against the plan, offering a straightforward glimpse into her national security mindset:
“I am deeply concerned with North Korea’s development and testing program which has clear potential of impacting Alaska, a sovereign state of the United States, with a potentially nuclear armed warhead. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we continue to develop and perfect the global missile defense network. Alaska’s strategic location and the system in place here have proven invaluable in defending the nation.”
Had Palin served out her natural term, and ran for re-election, the chorus of “is she qualified” would have been mollified by her overwhelming accomplishments and an acceptably completed term in office. Alaska is, after all, tied with two other states for the second most powerful governorship in America — with much more vested executive authority than the administratively weak governorship of Texas, for instance. Unlike so many governors, Palin actually wielded a line-item veto pen. Her budget was six times larger in gross terms than Bill Clinton’s in Arkansas, and as in her mayoral days, she held the line on spending, vetoing more than $500 million in pork while rejecting much of Obama’s stimulus.
Unfortunately, she stepped down 16 months shy of a full term. When you look at that as a percentage, however, Palin actually served two-thirds of her term … the precise percentage Barack Obama served of his term in the senate. Yet while many of us have trouble recalling what Obama did in the U.S. Senate while he was simultaneously running for president, Governor Palin balanced three budgets, passed sweeping ethics reforms, ushered in an innovative method of calculating oil profit taxes, and broke through decades of gridlock to move ahead on a $40 billion private natural gas pipeline, all while forward funding education and saving prudently for her state’s’ rainy day fund.
What would she have done in the last 16 months had she remained in office? We can be assured that she wouldn’t have been productive. The strange actions of her political opponents guaranteed that she and her staff would spend 80% of their time responding to phony charges cooked up after she returned from the heated campaign trail in ’08. And while perhaps some politicians would have been content to hold power just to vote “present,” Palin — to her own detriment, perhaps — isn’t wired that way. Grounded in a public service ethos since her days on the Wasilla City Council, it simply didn’t make moral sense to waste state resources — and even more precious time — just so she could continue to retain power and position.
Fortunately, just like Gov. Palin says, you really don’t need a formal position to make a difference, and in the second part of this series, we’ll explore five additional qualifications Palin brings beyond her elected offices, appointments and volunteer work — the real-life experience that could be pivotal in a presidential run and successful presidency. Stay tuned.