By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
There are 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Many of the most powerful members of Congress aren’t well known outside of their own state or even district. Often it takes a decade or more for a member to influence legislation. The conservative ‘American Thinker’ predicted that Alabama’s Gary Palmer and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse however will have an outsized influence going forward.
The ‘American Spectator’s Cliff Smith said of Palmer, “Palmer, an unassuming sixty-year-old white evangelical from a ruby-red Alabama district, is not the kind of candidate that gets the media excited. Yet he may well be the most important congressional freshman in recent history. Around 1980, after spending a dozen years as an engineer, Palmer felt called to political leadership after attending a conference sponsored by Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Yet unlike most of those aspiring to influence public policy, that didn’t initially translate into the desire to run for office. Instead, Palmer started what became the Alabama Policy Institute, the premier think-tank in the state, which he led for twenty-four years.”
Smith wrote in the ‘American Spectator’ that API started focusing on social issues and grew to become the full-spectrum conservative think tank in Alabama. Smith said that API fought a gigantic tax increase and successfully advocated for school vouchers. API has performed: analysis of Alabama’s 2015 budget, papers on how to assure more freedom for local governments, and how the legislature should address the state trust fund. Smith said, “Palmer himself has written about Medicaid, education, even Native American issues, and just about everything else you can think of. While state and federal issues are different, they are interrelated and the underlying problems and tensions are usually quite similar. Palmer also has been appointed to several state commissions over the years. When it comes to policy, he already has more knowledge and ideas than most current members of Congress.”
Smith credited Palmer with helping found: “The State Policy Network, an umbrella group that helps dozens of similarly minded state think-tanks grow by sharing resources, training scholars, and teaching best practices. Furthermore, the State Policy Network provides a forum to share ideas and work together on common issues. The SPN has chocked up a series of victories, and state-level think tanks on the right have flourished. There are now sixty-five, and every state counts at least one. Palmer likes to say he’ll be the only incoming member of Congress with a fifty-state network. He’s right.” “What this means is that whatever issues are before Congress, Palmer will have a pretty good handle on what’s being discussed and who the stakeholders are, and he’ll have a network of experts who know him and are used to working with him to help him develop a legislative agenda. These are things some members of Congress work for years to fully develop.”
Smith wrote that Nebraska candidate Ben Sasse is a forty-two-year-old Yale educated mirror image of Palmer. Smith wrote that: “Cynics like to say that special interests drive what happens in Washington. That’s only true to the extent they are unchallenged by bold men with good ideas that can capture the minds of the public and their fellow Congressman. I suspect Palmer and Sasse will follow in the footsteps of other prominent erudite conservative idea men and challenge the status quo with the power of their ideas. Their pending elections may be a footnote in the coming media coverage, but I imagine we’ll be discussing them a lot in the years to come.”
Gary Palmer said in a written statement, “As this article outlines, during my 24 years at the Alabama Policy Institute, I was blessed to have gained extensive experience working on important public policy issues and the opportunity to develop relationships with key leaders and thinkers throughout the nation. That said, if elected, while I appreciate the confidence expressed by the writer of the American Spectator article, I think my expectations for my immediate impact in Congress are a bit more modest.”
API is a research and education organization that is dedicated to identifying, developing and promoting public policies which emphasize limited government, free markets, the rule of law and strong families.
Gary Palmer was appointed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to Alabama Commission on Improving State Government. He was appointed by former Governor Bob Riley to the Governor’s Task Force to Strengthen Alabama Families and served as an advisor to the Alabama Aerospace, Science and Industry Task Force. Palmer was appointed by Alabama Governor Fob James to the Governor’s Welfare Reform Commission. Palmer is a founding director and past president of the State Policy Network.
Gary Palmer grew up in the North Alabama town of Hackleburgh, the son of a small logger. He graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Science degree in Operations Management and has an honorary doctorate from the University of Mobile.
Palmer’s opponent is Dr. Mark Lester (D). Lester was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and his family have lived in Homewood for the past 23 years while teaching history at Birmingham Southern College. Lester attended Rhodes College, received a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. He has a Ph.D. in Modern British Economic History from the University of Oxford. After finishing law school, Mark Lester was appointed Assistant United States Attorney where he prosecuted drug dealers and white collar criminals. He later formed a small law firm, specializing in commercial litigation.
Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District is currently represented by Republican Representative Spencer Bachus from Vestavia who is retiring after 11 terms in the Congress. Congressman Bachus served the District as an Alabama State Senator before going to Congress after defeating Congressman Ben Erdreich (D) in 1992.
The General Election will be on Tuesday, November 4.