by Whitney Pitcher
Executive experience is often seen as a needed criterion when looking for potential presidential nominees, especially among Republicans. It has been more than 130 years since the GOP nominated an eventual winner for President who only had legislative experience (Note: President Eisenhower’s military experience easily qualifies as executive experience). It goes beyond the simple dichotomy of legislative versus executive experience, however. What is even more important is how one used the executive experience that he or she has. Did he or she use such experience to make government smaller or bigger? Did he or she use their executive experience to create personal mandates or to expand individual freedom? Did he or she use their executive to perpetuate or get rid of cronyism?
The office of Alaskan governor is known for being a very powerful office—2nd most powerful state executive in the country. What makes the Alaska governor’s office so powerful include line item veto power that can only be overridden by three-fourths majority in the legislature and the ability to appoint all statewide executive department heads and various board members positions and the like. The only two statewide elected officials are the governor and the lt. governor; other positions, such as attorney general, are appointed by the governor. In many ways, the proverbial buck indeed stopped with Governor Palin. During Governor Palin’s tenure, she used her executive power to make government smaller and more ethical and transparent.
As Governor, Sarah Palin vetoed nearly $500 million in spending during her tenure including vetoing nearly a quarter billion in 2007 alone. Such vetoes enabled her to cut Alaska’s budget 9.5% over her predecessor’s budget. She also vetoed $268 million in the FY2009 capital budget. Despite legislative outcry over these vetoes, they did not even take up a vote to attempt to override her veto. Earlier that year, Governor Palin vetoed nearly $58 million for funding various projects in a supplemental bill. She did not use her line item veto indiscriminately though. Some of the projects proposed by legislators were projects Governor Palin had vetoed the year prior. She gave legislators the opportunity to justify why such projects should be funded:
She said if lawmakers didn’t want her to simply veto the projects again, they could make an appointment to come to her office and explain why the projects were worthy of funding. Palin personally attended more than a dozen meetings with lawmakers, and even opened them to the media.
On Thursday, members of her staff hand-delivered the results to lawmakers.
Of the $70 million in projects at issue, Palin accepted 52 projects totaling $12.4 million, chopped 16 worth $22.3 million, and put 155 projects worth $35.4 million in what she designated the “move” category.
In 2009, Governor Palin vetoed nearly $30 million in federal stimulus aimed at energy efficiency because it required federal building codes to be implemented. Her veto was later overridden by the legislature. Governor Palin was concerned with the sustainability of projects funded by the federal government when the funding would later dry out saying,” [i]f the legislature wants to add funds to grow government, then I also want to hear how we will get out of the fiscal hole we’ll be in just two years from now when those temporary stimulus funds are gone”. She could have used her pen to simply sign into law any spending project handed to her, but she did not. She exercised fiscal restraint, even to the dislike of the legislature, because she wanted to ensure government remained small and that all projects approved were truly worthy of state funding. Governor Palin used the power given to her by the Alaska constitution, but she did so to shrink spending, make state government smaller, and make Alaska less dependent on the federal government.
Governor Palin used her executive power to appoint individuals to cabinet type positions, councils, and the like who were of the same mindset when it came to making government smaller and reduce bureaucratic red tape. This can be seen in her creation of the Alaska Health Strategies Planning Council to address Alaska’s healthcare issues early in her term. This council was comprised of Department of Health and Social Services and individuals from various levels of government, the business community, the healthcare industry, and faith based organizations, and they were all appointed by the Governor. The recommendations from this council provided the basis for a healthcare proposal from the Governor, the Alaska Health Care Transparency Act, which would increase patient choice and remove bureaucratic red tape for providers—essentially making government smaller. One thing this act proposed was removing the Certificate of Need (CON) requirement for building new healthcare facilities:
STATE CON LAWS originated, like so many bad health care ideas, with a mandate from the federal government. In 1974, states were effectively told by Washington that no new medical facilities could be built unless a “public need” had been demonstrated. The idea was to reduce costs, but the only measurable effect of this federal decree was a morass of bureaucratic red tape that stifled competition in the health care market. In 1987, the federal statute was finally repealed, but many states inexplicably kept their CON processes in place. Alaska was one of them and, as Governor Palin put it in an editorial for the Anchorage Daily News, “Under our present Certificate of Need process, costs and needs don’t drive health-care choices — bureaucracy does. Our system is broken and expensive.”
This bill ultimately was rejected by the legislature, but it indicates– both through her personal policy convictions and that of those whom she appointed– smaller, less bureaucratic government was the goal.
Through her appointments, Governor Palin showed how she desired to use her executive power to make government void of crony capitalism and more transparent. This was seen in the seven individuals she brought in to work with oil and gas issues, who had become known as the Magnificent Seven. One of these individuals, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner, Tom Irwin, was fired by Governor Murkowski, Palin’s predecessor, due to his questioning of the legality Murkowski’s pipeline deal. Six other DNR employees quit in protest of Irwin’s firing. Governor Palin brought these individuals back to work for her administration appointing Tom Irwin as her DNR commissioner. These individuals were instrumental in both the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA)—her natural gas pipeline project—and Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES)—the oil tax structure. AGIA was negotiated in a transparent manner and allowed all potential pipeline companies and energy development companies to compete for the opportunity to participate in the project and also allowed Alaskans to view these proposals in a transparent manner. No special treatment was shown to any particular companies because neither Governor Palin, her commissioners, nor her DNR staff had industry cronies. The same could be said of ACES. Previously, PPT, the oil tax structure signed in to law by Governor Murkowski, was done in secret and was favorable to Murkowski’s cronies, which led to the indictment and arrest of Murkowski’s chief of staff, some legislators, and industry personnel from the pipeline company, VECO. ACES was not influenced by only certain oil companies, but instead provided incentives for any companies willing to engage in oil exploration. Governor Palin’s appointments helped rid Alaska of the crony capitalism and lack of government transparency.
Much of Governor Palin’s efforts to shrink government and make it more ethical are a direct contrast to the supposed GOP executive frontrunners in the race for the 2012 nominations. Both Governor Romney and Governor Perry grew government obligations. They both increased state debt at a far greater pace than Governor Palin, while Governor Palin actually reduced state liabilities for pensions and the like when Governors Romney and Perry increased state liabilities. Governor Romney’s infamous universal healthcare/individual mandate plan, which he defends on the basis of federalism, is very heavily funded, not by state monies, but by federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars and continues to run way over budget. Governor Perry once issued an executive order (thankfully later overturned by the Texas legislature)that mandated young girls to get a HPV vaccine manufactured by a company that gave substantially to Perry’s campaign. On the other hand, Governor Palin proposed a plan that gave more individual choices, not mandates, in healthcare. Governor Romney has a history of receiving campaign funds from entities that he once did business with and also had a history of engaging in and supporting corporatism through various subsidies. Governor Perry, too, has a history of crony capitalism by awarding business related grants to those who have donated to his gubernatorial campaigns. Governor Palin’s natural gas pipeline and her oil tax structure were aimed at removing cronyism, and her ethics reform bill sought to remove the influence of political favors for campaign funds.
Executives at any level of government could use their power to grow government spending and power and to reward cronies or those who donated to their campaign. Governor Palin is the only one who has a proven record of using her power to make the government smaller and less powerful. Governor Palin used her power to reduce government spending and state reliance on the federal funding. She desired to increase individual choice, not create individual mandates. She used her executive authority to make government more ethical and transparent while removing cronyism rather than perpetuating it. The differences could not be clearer.