name content Palin in Wasilla: Mastery of governing detail, resistance to insider assimilation – The North Star National

Palin in Wasilla: Mastery of governing detail, resistance to insider assimilation

(Note: I do not plan to write a singular review of Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue, but I do plan a series of pieces on different sections of the book – with more emphasis on the information conveyed than on the literary quality. This is the first of those pieces.)


You can’t help but notice that just about everyone who is part of the political establishment detests Sarah Palin. And you can’t help but notice that Palin couldn’t care less.

Early in the second chapter of Going Rogue, a chapter titled “Kitchen-Table Politics,” you learn everything you need to know to understand why. This is the way Palin has been wired for a very long time. During her two terms on the Wasilla City Council, followed by two terms as the city’s mayor, she consistently demonstrated a refreshing immunity to the insider mentality that tends to afflict people who serve in government at any level.

Recruited to run for the Council in 1992 by local power broker Nick Carney, Palin was seen as an attractive face who would support the usual way of doing business in Wasilla. She wasn’t.

In one of the first tests of her independence, Palin opposed a proposal touted by Carney, her political patron, to force residents to pay for neighborhood trash pickup rather than hauling their garbage to the dump themselves, as most did, and as Palin says she still does.

Why was this so important to Carney? Because he owned the local garbage truck company. If you’ve never had much exposure to local politics – and this is largely true anywhere you go – it’s a pretty big deal for a young, inexperienced politician (especially a woman) to so blatantly go against the person who recruited you into politics and supported you in your first campaign. You come under tremendous pressure to fall into line. Most cave, right then and there, long before they ever sniff politics at a higher level.

Palin didn’t.

During her terms on the council, she consistently opposed heavy-handed community planning initiatives and burdensome taxes. But she was not anti-government, as she explains:

As a council member, I focused on what I believed to be the key functions of government: infrastructure development, fiscal responsibility and simply being on the side of the people.

She continued this emphasis after being elected mayor in 1998, supporting the building of roads and sewers, which helped to attract stores like Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer to Wasilla for the first time. She also spurred the paving of the city’s airport runway. You read that right: Wasilla’s airport had a gravel runway before Palin worked to get it paved.

It was as Wasilla’s mayor that she encountered the kind of insider resistance to responsive government that would also await her later in Juneau. After she defeated the incumbent mayor, Palin recalls assembling her cabinet for the first time. These were holdovers from the previous mayor. As they sat with their arms folded, glaring at her, she received little enthusiasm as she talked about reviewing budgets and looking for places to cut in order to redirect money to building roads and sewers.

The chief of police flat-out refused to even look for budget savings, beginning a chilly relationship that ultimately resulted in Palin firing him and – get this – being sued by him for sex discrimination. (It took three years, but Palin was vindicated – another harbinger of things to come.)

Among Palin-haters, one of the most popular canards is that she is an airhead, and clearly not capable of dealing with the intricacies of government. As this chapter demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth.

Palin not only has a keen grasp of the details of governing and budgeting, she also understands the political difficulties inherent in making government responsive. Many of her antagonists at the national level scoffed at the notion that her experience in Wasilla was of any value. Quite the contrary, local government is where a public official’s decisions have the most direct impact on the electorate. It’s where you really have to understand the ins and outs of what you’re doing.

No voting for bills without reading them first.

As I’ve said many times before, and will say again now, I have no idea if Palin ever wants to run for president, and it is not my intention here to either tout her for president or argue for (or against) her qualifications.

But it has become widely accepted conventional wisdom that Palin is nothing more than a populist sloganeer who has no serious grasp of governing substance. Even a fair number of conservative commentators have bought into this notion, and are warning against the support of Palin as the mere embrace of empty style over substance.


When it comes to the nuts and bolts of governing, Palin is one of the most substantive politicians to arrive on the scene in quite some time. And when it comes to having the intestinal fortitude necessary keep the interests of the people at the top of the agenda, I can’t think of a single person anywhere in politics who is Palin’s equal.

If you disagree with Palin’s philosophy of governing because you are a political liberal, that’s fine. But if you’re an honest person, stop trying to pretend she’s some sort of good-looking moron.

The more you read about Palin’s experience in governing, the more you understand why the national political establishments of both parties hope to smother her political career in its crib. She knows how to govern – better than most of them do, in fact. She just won’t do it the way they do it, and that scares the crap out of them.