Since January, when he took office as the new U.S. representative from Alabama's Sixth District (Birmingham), Republican Gary Palmer has demonstrated why — even in Congress — he remains the conservative "outsider" he was for years heading pro-family and pro-freedom "think tanks" in his home state.
Returning from a recent visit to the southern border with fellow lawmakers, Palmer told Newsmax that "morale among our Border Patrol is suffering badly. We've got to end the 'catch and release' policy that is allowing so many to come into the U.S. illegally. And we can't underestimate the sophistication of folks trying to get here — and in one case smuggling in 3,500 pounds of illegal drugs. We're dealing with some pretty bad guys."
Another area in which Palmer is particular outspoken is healthcare. Rather than simply calling for repeal of Obamacare, the Alabamian knows what he would do immediately if that came about.
"The first things to do are permit portability [ability to take one's health care plan moving from job to job] and allow folks to purchase health insurance across state lines, as they do with auto insurance," he said. "A return to a market-based solution will cost a fraction of what Obamacare will cost.
"And we must have the individual in control of what is in his or her health insurance plan," said Palmer. "When it's 'your plan' and not your employer's plan, you are going to be careful about what it covers and how much it will cost."
Palmer expatiated about undoing what he called "President Obama's unconstitutional executive action on amnesty [for illegal immigrants]," how to fix the deficit by rethinking the management of entitlements, and opening up federal lands as an avenue to make America energy-free.
A joke among conservative activists back in Birmingham has it that, left alone, Gary Palmer will map out solutions to most of the issues of the day. With one other person in the room with him, he will form a committee to advance at least one of those solutions.
This was Gary Palmer's adult life before winning his first term in Congress last year at age 60: A graduate of the University of Alabama, he formed the Alabama Family Alliance, which later became the Alabama Policy Institute. The group studied and produced monographs on such family-related issues ranging from abortion to school vouchers.
A self-styled "concept guy," Palmer edited a book entitled "Facts Not Fear" which, in his words, "spelled out the things about the environment that parents should tell their kids." The book had nine printings and, as he recalled proudly, "was translated into Spanish and Turkish."
Although the primary focus of Palmer's group was the pro-family agenda, the Birmingham activist in 1992 served on the founding board of the State Policy Network. This was the "umbrella group" for economic and cultural conservative think tanks nationwide.
Invoking the names of famous national conservative leaders known for bringing others on the right together, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist told Newsmax: "Gary Palmer is the [late Coalitions for America head] Paul Weyrich and [former Heritage Foundation President] Ed Feulner of Alabama. In knowing how to build bridges among activists on the right, he brings to Congress a set of skills few others have."
In 2013, when 22-year Republican Rep. Spencer Bacchus announced his retirement from Congress, Palmer was one of seven Republicans vying to succeed him in the GOP primary that is tantamount to election in the Sixth District.
Palmer recalled how "national conservative groups backed one candidate, the 'tea party' backed another, and the 'establishment' backed another. You really have to demonstrate your conservative credentials in a race like that, and you have to listen to conservatives."
One way Palmer demonstrated those credentials was to vow repeatedly to oppose John Boehner's re-election as speaker.
After placing one-two with GOP "establishment" favorite and state legislator Paul DeMarco, Palmer went on to win the runoff with 64 percent of the vote.
In both the general election and after he arrived in Washington, Palmer told Boehner face-to-face that "I had made a commitment not to vote for him, could not vote for him, and would not break my word. I never make politics personal. But if I tell you I'll do something, I do it."
He added that "I think Mr. Boehner understood this." True to his word, Palmer in January became one of 25 Republicans in the House to vote against a third term for Boehner in the speaker's chair.
But for someone who has spent his entire adult life with ideas and concepts as his companions, simply voting against Boehner was not in the Palmer lexicon. He told Newsmax he believes the speaker could win back the confidence of conservatives such as himself by leading on three key issues.
"First, he's got to help defund amnesty," he said. "Second, he's got to help take out as much of Obamacare as possible. And, third, he has to help roll back the excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency."
"Before he ran for Congress, Gary was primarily known in Montgomery and Washington as a 'policy guy'— and he certainly is that," James L. Martin, head of the Sixty Plus Seniors Association and father of the 'Death Tax' repeal movement, told Newsmax. "But when he ran and I campaigned for him, I also saw how Gary took complex issues, explained them, connected with grass-roots conservatives, and mobilized them into action.
"His ability to be both policy guy and motivator will make him a conservative leader in Congress in a very short time."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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