Former Montana Governor Offers Insights into Palin, Politics

Judy Martz was Palin before Palin was cool.

Montana’s former Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican who served from 2001 to 2005, said her tenure in politics offers unique insight into Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Here’s what Martz learned: The women’s movement is hypocritical, Martz said, because it doesn’t celebrate all women, only those who align themselves with it. Too often the press ignores policy, favoring gaffes instead. Politics is tough on families. And although the electorate continually asks for authenticity, it seems to reward the phonies.

The connection between Martz and Palin is less direct than intuitive. The two have never met. Yet, like Palin, Martz is a woman for whom faith is primary. Both are conservative, socially, and very much pro-business. Both are confident in front of crowds but lack the stick-to-the-script-iveness or rhetorical seamlessness that typifies polished politicians like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.

Plus, their home states—Montana and Alaska—occupy similar places in the national consciousness. To America, the wide-open spaces and natural resources of the two states convey a sense of unbridled freedom and bounty. Their small populations recall America’s mythical heritage of simplicity, order and unquestioned faith.

Isn’t that what Palin brings to McCain’s ticket? An air of the frontier? She certainly doesn’t bring many electoral votes or much money.

That’s why, in some ways, Martz seems like Palin’s political forebear.

Or, put another way, Martz was Palin, before Palin was cool.

And by the end of her time in office, Martz was anything but cool. Four years ago, she was in the final days of her first term. She didn’t seek a second; her approval ratings were abysmal. These days, Martz spends time on the speaking circuit. She’s on a number of business and nonprofit boards. Plus, she has two young grandchildren who live only 10 minutes away from her home in Butte.

It feels pretty good.

“By the grace of God, I’m home being a grandma,” Martz said with a warm laugh. “I’m keeping busy. I’m out of the front page of the media.”

Looking back, Martz feels that the oil and coal work and fiscal discipline her administration imposed on the state set the groundwork for Montana’s present prosperity, including a budget surplus of almost $1 billion.

Instead of that, too often journalists in the state focused on her phraseology. Most notably, in response to a question about her opponents depicting her as a lapdog to industry, she used the term to emphasize her pro-business stance. What the media reported was Martz saying she was a “lapdog.”

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m not anybody’s lapdog. Never have been. Never will be,” Martz said. “But they used that the whole time I was in office.”

That experience, and others, taught Martz that speaking from the heart is dangerous. It’s better to stick to short, prepared statements.

“I love soundbites,” she said.

It makes perfect sense that Palin sticks to talking points, such as in her debate against rival vice presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“Palin’s a smart woman, but she’s not going to talk like they talk. She’s not going to pronounce her words the way they do. People find that refreshing,” Martz said. “I do applaud her for, if she says something incorrect, if she misspeaks, she admits she’s wrong. She got one of the commanders’ names wrong in the debate. Easy enough, easy enough. In that position, should you know it? Sure. Yes…. You might be running for something, but you are human.”

As for Palin’s readiness to serve, Martz feels Palin’s tenure leading Alaska has prepared her.

“It’s about the people you serve,” Martz said. And to those who feel Palin’s not intelligent enough, Martz said no one is. “Who is bright enough without the help of other people? People are not prepared for these positions. She’s more prepared than Obama, Biden and even McCain, in lots of ways.”

If she were in Palin’s shoes, Martz said, “I would be out there on the campaign trail. I wouldn’t be meeting with the press every day. I’d talk to the people. Remove the filter of the press, especially the liberal press. If you say one thing wrong and 22 things right, they’ll pounce on the one thing.”

“I admire her, and I admire her family. That’s who gets torn and ripped apart,” Martz said. “She knows who she is. But when your family reads untruths about you. It hurts. My dad died last year. My mom died the previous year. They had to quit reading the paper…. People say, ‘It’s fair. You’re in politics.’ What’s fair and right about that? Our son would have people tell him I’m stupid…. Say it to me. Don’t say it to my kids. Those are the things Palin is getting right now.”

As for the political spotlight, Martz knows the particular scrutiny on women. “They don’t care what kind of suit you wear, if you’re a man. I’ve seen write-ups about her clothes, about her glasses. It’s a mean sport.”

Martz also feels the women’s movement is unfair to conservative women.

Finally, Martz has mixed feelings about the political game. On one hand, she feels the electorate finds plain-talking women like herself and Palin refreshing.

On the other hand?

“People say they want honesty, someone who will serve them. People say they want morality. People say they want someone who will work with everybody. But in the end, I don’t think that’s what they really want,” Martz said. “If they did, we would not be looking at either one of these (presidential candidates). I think they want the polished guys. I think they want the phonies.”

Still, the time might be right in America for a woman like Palin, Martz suggested.

(This first ran on Oct. 9, 2008.)

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