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Palin By Comparison

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Those who listen to my radio show know that I spend my mornings and some evenings practicing and teaching law. For the 20 years since I left Washington, D.C., I have been a land use and natural resources lawyer, guiding landowners –principally home builders but also churches and commercial developers—through the maze of federal, state and local regulatory permitting that blankets the use of land in the U.S. I have had clients throughout the west, and this has meant appearing hundreds of times before city councils, county boards and regional and state commissions and agencies. It has meant thousands of meetings with elected and appointed local government officials.


I provide this as background to a few comments on Sarah Palin’s decade as a city council member and mayor of a small town, Wasilla, Alaska. Don’t underestimate the enormous benefit this provides the governor in the campaign and beyond as she takes up the duties of a vice president. Local government experience means an immersion in the real problems of real people as well as with a myriad of issues from the details of budgets for road maintenance and police and fire forces, to the land use issues I mentioned above, to parks and recreation and school construction issue issues.

And, of course, snow removal, the bane of many mayors' lives.

It also means appearing at thousands of the events that define small town life, from the Rotary to the start of the local fund-raising 5K, and the hiring and firing of staff that has to make the traffic lights work and oversee the trash collection.

And mostly it means being able to connect with people who look to the local government to get the big things in small towns right.

Sitting on a dais week after week and listening to public comments and presentations from staff is the least glamorous of all elected offices, but very central to the functioning of the republic. Hundreds of thousands of Americans serve in these all-but-voluntary jobs and do so out of a sense of public spiritedness. Of course there are knuckleheads among the local electeds, and I have encountered many of them.


But by a very large measure these mayors, council members and commissioners are genuine public servants –and they get very smart, very fast about the communities they serve and the real successes and failures that define American life, whether in Wasilla, Alaska or Dearborn, Michigan or Sharon, PA.

Spend a decade doing this work and you will have made tens of thousands of decisions –and votes—and seen the consequences of public policy decisions play out in a large way even though the stage is relatively small. And you will have developed style and insight into people and bureaucracy. And you will be skilled in performing in public.

All of which is a way of alerting the MSM especially that just because they have never been to a small town city council meeting doesn’t mean they don’t matter, or that those who participate as leaders in such settings haven’t picked up quite a lot along the way.

I fully expect to hear quite a few Sarah Palin speeches that include a paragraph that begins “When I was mayor of Wasilla”

The political and media elites have been laughing at Sarah Palin’s “small town” years. But every mayor and council member she meets over the next two months will have a bond with her that no one else on the national tickets can match.


Most commentators have figured out or soon will with the help of Beldar that she really, really knows the energy issue, and to a nation stunned by the sudden shock to their household budgets brought about by 30 years of indifference to new exploration, this will be a huge advantage. But so will be her experience with federal Endangered Species Act, which has been and remains central to my law practice and which interests very few other than those impacted by it.

In many key states --Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Washington and Oregon to name just five-- the “ESA” has had devastating impacts on many industries and communities. When Sarah Palin led her state into federal court to challenge the absurd listing of the polar bear as a “threatened species” because of predictions about what might happen to the bears if what might happen to polar ice actually did happen, she took a stand that will trigger sustained applause in places and among people who are actually familiar with the workings of this extraordinarily onerous statute. As an avid outdoorswoman and conservationist, she has zero fear of environmental activists jeering about her indifference to nature. Her passion for the great outdoors will reawaken the TR tradition in the GOP and combine it with an experience in federal bureaucratic meddling with state and local governance that will put inside the Beltway a true property rights’ advocate. I haven’t seen reference yet to any specific experience witht Clean Water Act, NEPA or the Clean Air Act, but her familiarity with the federal hidden hand –the BLM, the USFWS, the ACOE—will be extremely useful as she campaigns across the country in communities hard hit by the expansion of federal regulation far beyond its intended and many believe constitutional limits.


The pro-life and pro-Second Amendment communities were immediately taken with Sarah Palin’s record. But there are other constituencies out there which will love what they learn about the Alaska governor.

The political pros all agree that votes for presidents usually turn on the question of which candidate is perceived to understand and value what that voter has experienced and feels. Reactions to the veeps typically do not enter into that calculation.

Sarah Palin may be different. To moms struggling to raise internet and text-messaging teens, to the parents of special needs children, to regular church goers, hunters and snowmobilers, Sarah Palin is already a friend.

She will soon be a friend to every land-owner bedeviled by complicated federal statutes wielded by remote and uncaring federal officials, and to the local elected officials across the country who appreciate exactly what it is that she did for that decade on the Wasilla city council.

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