Those words are not new to the conversations in my life. I have heard them at least 75 times since that fateful day when I was seventeen years old and then presidential nominee, John McCain, announced that the female governor of Alaska would be his choice of a name to sit directly below his on the ballot. As Governor Palin walked out onto the stage in the midst of the 24-hour news cycle’s “veep watch,” I became more and more fascinated with each word that came from her mouth. Never one to mince words, Governor Palin spoke with a tenacity I had not seen in a candidate in the time I had been following politics, which really brings me to the beginning of my story.
I started paying attention to politics at five years old (and, yes, I was a bizarre child). I used to lay on the floor of the living room, captivated by what most would consider the boring ramblings of old men in stuffy suits that plays incessantly on C-SPAN. A child of the 1990’s, my earliest political memory is that of asking my mother to explain to me what the president had done to garner such anger from the public in the throes of the Monica Lewinsky/impeachment scandal.
I was fortunate to have an incredibly close relationship with my mother. She was only nineteen when she learned she was pregnant with the baby who would eventually become the woman typing this story right now. As the child of a teenage mother post-Roe vs. Wade, I grew up knowing that my mother had a “choice” when she learned of my existence, and was always thankful that she saw me as her child and not as the optional burden the pro-choice movement would have her believe my existence would be, but, as I often do, I have digressed from the story I have waited so long to be able to experience and share.
Right around my middle school years, I knew I was a “Republican,” because like so many Americans, I saw politics as simply one of two parties and the Republican Party was much more in line with what I believed to be the right track for America. My mom did go on to marry my father and have three more children, but by the time I was 10 years old, it was clear my parents would neither remain married nor would my father stay a part of my life, so I learned to value family for the true value and support it brings to our lives. By the time I was fifteen, I had spent 10 years telling my mother I would someday be governor of Wisconsin, my home state. By seventeen, though, I was a bit more realistic about my career choices, and torn between the stability of a career in education and the tremendous risk it would take to enter the world of politics.
Realistically, I had never really seen a conservative woman prominently featured in American politics and I truly did not think I could be in politics and still have a family. I decided to enter college the following fall to major in Education. Then, one day, John McCain put a beautiful woman on to the national political stage and I started to re-think my career choice and recognize the true passion I had for making a difference in the world around me.
I journeyed to Minnesota my senior year of high school and saw the governor from a distance in an airplane hangar. I was three weeks too young to vote in that election and it pained me to watch as the results poured in from all over the country and looked more and more like Vice President Palin would be but a fantasy in my mind.
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I journeyed to Iowa with a friend to see Sarah Palin speak in a rain storm in a corn field and suffered through the terrible weather. On that day, I spoke with a reporter about Sarah Palin running in 2012, expressing my youthful hope that I would again see her name on a ticket and actually get to vote this time. (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0911/62607_Page2.html)
It was shortly after that visit to Iowa, only a few months later, that a seat was vacated on my city council. Now a junior in college, the second aldermanic district had been somewhat rocked by scandal, and there was a dedicated group of active citizens who knew me as the speaker of the senate on student government who also happened to believe that I would make a great fit to fill the now-vacant seat that represented many students in the municipality. I appeared before the council with two other applicants, asking for their appointment to an abbreviated term on the body. God was with me that day, and my experience and commitment to my community proved worthy. I took my oath of office immediately and began to serve on a number of committees and in a number of capacities. (I used to joke that I could issue a liquor license before I could buy liquor!) (http://www.gazettextra.com/news/2011/nov/17/uw-whitewater-student-fills-vacant-city-council-se/)
I ran for re-election only five months after taking office and had only a write-in candidate run against me. Perhaps more than hotly contested issues, my battle is often with an electorate that remains apathetic even when the issues directly affect them. I won my seat and began to serve a full term representing the second district.
By my senior year, I was torn about what to do immediately following graduation, but have been incredibly blessed with a great career in the property management/landlord business. Having been elected to a two-year term, I made a commitment to remain in my city even though I would graduate from its university about mid-way through that term. I have truly learned the value of working for the greater good instead of being so attached to our dogma that we cannot work for the good of a community. Last April, I was nominated by our Dean of Students for a national award that recognizes young individuals with a commitment to civic engagement and bettering our communities. That award came with great pride and created in me an even greater drive to continue doing the necessary work no matter how bogged down one gets in the drama of local politics. (http://royalpurplenews.com/?p=10994)
In the past six months, many things in my life have changed—some of them even causing me to doubt (however briefly) my ability to continue serving in elected office. For some reason, though, at the end of each day, when I sit down to talk to God, I still hear from Him that I have been blessed with a gift, that I can communicate these issues, and that I can work with people different from myself to accomplish something greater for my community, my state, and maybe even my nation.
This time of year is one in which local elected officials must begin to consider whether or not we will seek re-election to our positions. I had been quite torn about the concept—hearing different answers from different people.
I should also add that I am a workaholic, spending long days, late nights, and even some weekends in the office I took over managing while still in school myself. I rarely, if ever, deem it necessary to take time away from my job, but then, Sarah Palin posted on her Facebook that she was coming to Wisconsin, to Wausau, a journey of almost three hours from where I live, and I knew, absolutely knew, that I needed to be there for that visit.
My car is, itself, an homage to my unique brand of politics. Labeled across the back is my custom “Going Rogue” sticker and a Palin 2016 bumper sticker adorns its bumper. It is not difficult for people to figure out where I am at any given moment in my community. (See pictures!)
So, I let my boss know I would be taking Thursday off, booked a hotel for Wednesday night, and determined that I would be in line bright and early to finally have a chance to talk to the woman who made me believe that maybe, just maybe, a conservative, God-loving woman could have a beautiful family and an incredible impact on the political world.
I must admit, I paid for a hotel Wednesday night, but never really went to sleep. A gym junkie with a membership to a 24-hour, nationwide gym, I gave up on sleeping around 2:00am and hit the treadmill in an attempt to work off my excitement and nervousness before heading back to my hotel to dress for the event. By 5:00 am, I was dressed in my patriotic gear, absurdly excited, and eager to show my excitement to my friends through the fun that is Snapchat.
I got to the store with my framed certificate of election in my bag (I intended to give it to Governor Palin as a thank-you) and found a few other Palin faithfuls were already in line. I quickly realized I would be spending the next several hours with these people and made friends quickly. After sharing a bit of my story with two wonderfully nice women, they eagerly allowed me to jump the line, putting me behind only one other Palin supporter and part of the first group that would go in to see the governor.
Security assured us that Governor Palin would have no time to really talk with us and would simply greet each person and continue to sign books. I was devastated to hear that I would not be able to bring my camera in, but relieved when I was told I could absolutely leave my certificate of election as a gift for the governor. Finally, it was 10:00 am, and we could hear the buzzing behind a curtain, fully aware that the woman we had all awaited so patiently had finally arrived to the store.
I looked just inside the curtain and Governor Palin sat at a table, already signing books with a frantic skill I have never witnessed in a person. She stopped what she was doing as we walked through the curtain and looked up at me, all decked out in my patriotic gear. I was determined not to let my admiration fill me with such jitters that I would not be able to talk to her, so I swallowed the bit of anxiety I could feel in my throat and found my words when she said to me, “Hello there. What’s your name?”
I answered her quickly, afraid that the line behind me would end any chance I had of a real conversation with Governor Palin. I began to tell her a bit about how her nomination had inspired me to run for city council when I was just 20. The governor then set down the red marker with which she was signing her books, and looked up at me, saying, “You know, city council was the first thing I ran for, too.” I, as one who has read Going Rogue more times than I care to admit, of course, had already drawn this parallel. I nodded simply as she continued,
“20 years old though, wow, what exactly does a 20 year old campaign on? What are the issues facing your town? You must be quite good at what you do.”
My response? “Well, governor, honestly, my town faces the same issues as every other town, constant zoning changes, liquor license issues, and the reality that government often stops progress instead of helping it along, creating unnecessary barriers for businesses and innovators. I really saw an opportunity to try to make even local government as small as possible. My term is up in April, though, and I haven’t yet decided if I’m running again or not.”
It was then that an event occurred that 17-year old me could not have fathomed. Governor Palin stopped, looked at me right in the eye, and said “No, you run again. You have it in you. I can see that. Make the campaign about those things. Say those things you just said to me. Make the people your age realize how much those decisions affect them. Then, keep pushing those issues, no matter how many people tell you it’s not possible. That’s what we need here in this country. Now, give me a hug.”
A hug? From Sarah Palin? After nearly 6 years of watching her on my television and from a distance, I was here, face-to-face and she had her arms around me after giving me campaign advice. It was a parallel universe, really, but exactly the reminder I needed that even at the local level, true change and direction can come in even the most unexpected of places. Perhaps it’s the hockey mom turned vice presidential nominee or the Political Science major turned young politician, but each of us has an opportunity to make that same difference.
As I walked away with my signed books, Governor Palin called out to me, “Oh, and I really like your hair. It’s so cute.”
I smiled to myself, remembering 17-year old me attempting to recreate Palin’s trademark updo and raving to my mother about just how great her hair is. Tears welled in my eyes a bit as I walked away, knowing that God had just given me a pep talk in the most unexpected of messengers.
Then in the middle of the next night, when I was finally fast asleep, I woke up around 2:00 am to discover a post on my Facebook wall from a dear friend, a link to a photo from Sarah Palin’s own Facebook page and a picture I do not think I could have fathomed would ever exist. After all this time, and all of my postings of Sarah Palin, Governor Palin herself had posted a picture of me, smiling with admiration as I finally got to have a conversation with her. For some reason, I doubt I will ever forget that bright and early morning in Wausau, WI.