Monday, November 30, 2009

# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MAYOR OF WASILLA: I told you I was Going Rogue and going to write about it.

The story of Sarah Palin's political life begins in Wasilla. Last fall, adversaries mocked her as a one-year governor and two-term mayor of a small town in Alaska. But what did being mayor of Wasilla mean to Palin? How it did shape her politics? Reading a political memoir, you don't expect to get much more than one side of any given story. But I want to know how Gov. Palin understands Wasilla.

For Palin, her time as mayor is a demonstration of her leadership abilities and the value of conservative principles. She writes on page 78,
As a result of our common sense conservative efforts, Wasilla became a booming, bustling town--the fastest growing area in the state, and an independent financial auditor (Mikunda, Cottrell & Co.) reported that Wasilla was "the envy of Alaskan cities."
I'd be curious to know more. The book's focus is on author, so it's hard to get a sense of how Wasilla really changed in those years.

Now, which efforts represent Palin's ideas about common sense conservatism? Above all, cutting taxes. She writes on page 78,
I cut taxes -- lots of them. I eliminated small business inventory taxes, I got rid of personal property taxes, I gave the boot to burdensome things like business license renewal fees, and I cut the real property tax mil levy every year I was in office.
Palin is very clear that what she did for the economy is get the government out of its way. That meant fewer taxes and an effort to cut the budget.

But there is one active component to Palin's philosophy of local government: infrastructure. Commenting on her race to unseat incumbent Mayor John Stein, Palin says,
I wanted government to appropriately provide the private sector with infrastructure tools to increase opportunities. Stein supported expanding land-use restrictions and building codes. (Page 70)
Wasilla is also where Palin began to think of herself as a principled reformer determined to take on special interests. Of her time on the city council before running for mayor, Palin writes "I voted according to my principles and let the chips fall where they may." (Page 66) That remark reflected her vote against using city authority to favor the garbage trucking firm owned by the council's "de facto leader", Nick Carney.

Wasilla is also the place where Palin first realized that being a reformer means being the target and victim of nefarious forces. In 2008, Palin was accused of spearheading an effort to ban books at the Wasilla library. She says that's a false accusation -- apparently ginned up by Nick Carney and his wife -- because they resented Palin's victory at the polls. Palin also says that opponents spread rumors that her daughter smoked marijuana. Her oldest daughter at the time was in kindergarten.

In short, Palin's Wasilla is the story of how selfish men wanted to grow the government, mostly to serve their private interests, but Palin but a put a stop to that. Am I convinced? I don't know the first thing about Wasilla aside from what's in this book so it's hard for me to say. If you like Sarah Palin, you'll probably trust her account. If you don't like her, you won't.

I sort of like Palin precisely because of the extreme condescension and vindictiveness of the attacks she faced first as a candidate, now as an author. But when Palin says something, is my instinct to give her the benefit of the doubt? Not yet. Her account of Wasilla is suspiciously black and white, with its heroic young mayor taking on the town's underhanded cabal of special interests.

On a related note, this means Palin never describes herself as facing hard decisions, where there were strong arguments on both sides, the stakes were high, and good people disagreed. Instead, it was always about right vs. wrong. It takes some courage to do what's right, but the temptations to do wrong seemed pretty minimal.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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