By Leada Gore
Many people around Alabama already knew Gary Palmer before he won the District 6 U.S. House seat in November. His work with the Alabama Policy Institute had him involved in politics for some time, but there is something different when you move from analyst to lawmaker.
We talked to him about that recently and got insight on working in D.C.
1. You've been in Washington for a few weeks now. Any major surprises from just a daily routine standpoint? What has been the thing you've encountered that did surprise you?
"Having worked in Washington for over 20 years, I really haven't been surprised by anything other than perhaps the pace. Being on three committees makes it a bit of a challenge to make meetings. But I have a great staff and we are managing things pretty well."
2. The State of the Union had to be an interesting experience. First, from just a historical sense, what was it like to be there for the SOTU?
"Well, it wasn't actually the first state of the union I attended. I attended the State of the Union in 2002, Bush's famous "Axis of Evil" speech. So it wasn't a completely new experience to me. However, it was of course an honor to attend as the Representative of Alabama's 6th Congressional District. And you can't help feeling a sense of history sitting on the house floor as an elected official with all three branches of our government together in the House chamber."
3. Was there any point during the speech that you thought you could agree with a proposal or idea the president had? What was that idea - if there was one?
"A lot of his speech seemed to me to be aimed at dividing us rather than focusing on areas where we could find agreement. But I appreciated his focus on improving our trade relations. The devil is in the details of course but I'm in favor of free trade as a general rule and I hope we can find some way to work together on that issue.
I also liked his focus on the middle class. He's right that people like that are the heart of what makes America great, and he's right that the middle class is struggling. Unfortunately, his policy agenda will hurt the middle class far more than help it. The middle class doesn't need another government program; it needs robust economic growth as opposed to the slowest recovery in modern history that they've gotten under the Obama Administration."
4. Did you have a "no way" moment during the speech? A time when you said that's the issue I will fight the hardest against?
"The President proposed a litany of new spending programs that he plans on paying for with increased taxes. That is precisely the wrong approach. Our national debt is now over $18 trillion, nearly double what it was six years ago when President Obama took office. We need to be focused on growing the economy and cutting spending, not on increased taxes and spending that will not only worsen our deficit, but hurt our economy. Getting our fiscal house in order should be our top priority.
I was also very disappointed about his veto threat for new Iran sanctions. Iran has repeatedly shown bad faith in their negotiations again and again, and there is widespread, bipartisan agreement in favor of new sanctions. Senator Menendez, a Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, has been very critical of the Administration's position and very supportive of new sanctions."
5. You've talked about how not supporting Speaker (John) Boehner could cost you when it comes to committee appointments but that's not really happened. Can you talk about what you think about your committee appointments and what you think they will mean for Alabama?
"I sat down with Speaker Boehner and the first thing I told him was that I had promised my constituents that I wouldn't vote for him, and that if the first thing I did when I got up here was to break my word to the voters, and violate that trust, not only would I lose their confidence, but I would lose his. I think he respected that.
I'm pleased with my committee assignments. They are what I asked for and I think all of them will allow me to serve Alabama well. The Budget Committee might not generate continuous headlines, but it is where you can learn where the taxpayers' money is going and how things really work in the federal government.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee has a very broad jurisdiction that does oversight of everything the federal government does, from regulatory reform to homeland security grants to federal workforce policies. People of my district know that I am all about finding solutions to problems, so rooting out problems in the federal government is right up my alley.
I am also very excited to sit on the Science, Space and Technology Committee. I believe there is a lot of regulatory reform that can be done in this area. I'm a member of the Subcommittee on the Environment, an assignment I requested. I have a long history of advocating for common sense environmentalism while rejecting radical environmentalism, so it's a good fit. Also, the Subcommittee on Research and Technology has jurisdiction over a wide variety of scientific issues that directly affects Alabama universities, biomedical engineering for example, which is very important to UAB and the Southern Research Institute."
6. I'm sure after you won your Congressional seat you receive all sorts of advice. Is there one thing that keeps coming back to you?
"I don't know if it is advice or an admonition, but a lot of people have said don't forget who you are or where you came from. In other words, don't get caught up in it all. In terms of how I conduct myself, I follow three simple rules that are really reflective of my values: One, be honest with everybody; two, don't surprise anybody, that is, be clear about who you are and what you stand for; and three, do what you say you will do."