City Hall Hustle: What Would Sarah Do?
Council considers Palin: 'Thanks, but no thanks'
As a professional observer of the Austin City Council, I try to keep up with local government wherever I go. If I'm on vacation and, God forbid, I find the municipal TV station during meeting time, I'm powerless in its wonky, low-resolution wash. The high-stakes game of municipal governance is a taste that, once acquired, cannot be satiated by anything else.
You know, like moose burgers.
As have most beings with a pulse, I've watched the ascension of Sarah Palin with alternately bemused and pants-crappingly terrified bewilderment. (And, therefore, sexism, as I'm sure those women's libbers at the McCain campaign would say!) While her defenders point to Palin's boffo executive experience as governor of Alaska – where the polar bears get what they got coming and the National Guard's the first line of defense against the Red menace! – that comprises less than two years of her political experience. Instead, she garnered considerably more official weathering in the 12½ square miles of Wasilla, Alaska, where the population runs four digits deep and the City Hall looks like it was ordered from Sears Roebuck. She was elected to the Wasilla City Council in 1992 with 530 votes – no, that's not her margin, those are all her votes, period – and voters re-elected her in 1995, this time with 413 ballots.
Talk about political capital!
A year later, she ducked out of finishing her term to run for mayor, hammering Wasillans with wedge issues like abortion to get the top spot. As Her Honor, Palin's reign of muscling the town librarian, lobbying for earmarks, and charging rape victims for their exam kits stretched to 2002. A proud record, to be sure. But does such a tenure at City Hall – distinguished as it is – qualify the former Miss Alaska contestant (sexist!) to be one geriatric heartbeat away from the Oval Office? Best to check with my own council members.
"Being just a couple of weeks from having a baby myself, I've been thinking about Palin's juggling act a lot," Randi Shade writes of the vice nominee and her growing family. "Going from diaper changes to zoning cases, tackling bridge issues one minute and libraries the next while still managing to serve dinner for the family on time, and shuttling from Boppy pillow to dais in a single day does seem like good training for something ... but it sure doesn't make me feel qualified for veep." Still, says the frosh council member, "Seeing Palin on the campaign trail with her hair up in a chip-clip, though, makes me feel just great." Good – so at least Palin's connecting with people.
Including Laura Morrison's mother. "During my council campaign, my mother was very disappointed that I was only running for City Council and not for mayor," Morrison writes in an e-mail to the "Hustle." "Now she has begun sending me full page photos of Sarah Palin, asking why I didn't throw my hat in the ring for VP. After all, I already have executive branch experience as president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council." Morrison, who received more votes in her 5% turnout run-off election than Palin garnered in her mayoral elections combined, remains dubious of Palin's foreign policy chops. Since being able to see Russia apparently makes you a Soviet expert, Morrison plans to burnish her own foreign policy credentials thusly: "If I stand on top of the Frost Tower, I can see Mexico."
Mike Martinez says he's "honestly not sure" if Palin's been sufficiently prepped by her local government experience. "I'm just glad she's figured out what the vice president actually does," a reference to her July 2008 statement she didn't know what it was "the VP does every day." Continues Martinez, without a trace of sarcasm: "Yeah, there are so many instances where being involved in municipal government can prepare you for being a heartbeat away from the presidency. I mean, in terms of foreign relations, we just invaded Lost Creek and the Peninsula this year alone."
Maybe Sheryl Cole has the best grasp on Palin's qualifications: "I used to be PTA president. Does that mean I can be vice president?"