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May Alumni Spotlight
|William Smith, Lincoln Fellow 2015
Chief of Staff for Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06)
What is your current position?
I currently serve as Chief of Staff for Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06).
What inspired you to choose this career path?
Very few people believe that the size and scope of government should be limited. I chose this path to be a counterbalance to those who would grow government.
What are you currently working on?
Every day presents a new opportunity when you’re managing something similar to a small business. This week I’m making sure the lights stay on in the District Office by paying the bills, but on the policy side our office is focused on passing the Agency Accountability Act (requiring all fines and fees to be subject to appropriations) and Stopping EPA Overreach (preventing the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases). We’re also busy trying to prohibit the government from making improper payments and continuing to push unfunded mandates down to the states. Regardless of the various policies, my focus is always on stopping the bad ones, which represents the overwhelming majority.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
I have known about Claremont for a number of years, but I am unsure how I first heard about it, save through a political connection with someone on Capitol Hill.
What’s your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
My most entertaining memory of the Fellowship by far was my contention that Aristotle, someone who died alone in isolation, deceived himself by thinking he understood happiness. However, I also remember fondly the friendships I developed, centered on ideas which would impact the nation. I appreciated the opportunity to engage in thoughtful policy discussions, rather than watching supposed intellectuals regurgitate stale talking points.
There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
The Claremont Fellowship program is unique because it is comprised of more than just intellectuals musing about how great they are. The focus is also unique, with conservative thought oriented to solutions, which, if actually implemented, could answer a number of our nation’s problems.
If you could have a drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order?
As a chess player and someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I’d probably just order an orange juice while I had a conversation with Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was a strategic thinker, who loved the game of chess. He could play it on the board and in the political arena. I think he would provide encouraging thoughts about how to navigate around impending disasters.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Both Washington and Lincoln were great men, but Washington, from my perspective, was more important. He might have been the only general the men were willing to follow in pursuit of freedom in the Revolutionary War and he served as a lead advocate for state sovereignty in the Constitutional Convention. I’m not sure we would get to Lincoln without Washington.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The greatest challenge facing the United States today is finding courageous leaders who actually believe in what the Founding Fathers created. The majority of our current leaders campaign on free market principles but once elected govern out of fear, without any confidence that free market principles actually work. This challenges the electorate to recognize that their representatives might mislead them with talking points in the state or district and then vote a different way in Washington.
What books are you reading right now?
I just finished reading Guidance and the Voice of God. It is a very good book on how you can live life with joy and confidence, regardless of the cares of the world.
You were once hired by and worked with Jeff Sessions for nearly a decade as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary/Budget Committees. What was that experience like for you?
Working for now Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a challenging and rewarding experience. It was challenging because Sessions is intellectually sound and demands no less from the people who work with him. Some people never leave home without their American Express; Sessions taught me to never leave home without a copy of the Constitution and to be prepared to defend the document, including the sections I would like to modify.
It was rewarding because we fought for principles every day, regardless of the political climate, and because Sessions is more than a boss to those who work with him, especially for long periods of time. He has become a confidant and a close friend who I can talk to and rely on to provide sound legal and personal advice.
You’re a graduate of The University of Alabama, but you’re a fan of the Auburn Tigers. Are you conflicted at all when Alabama and Auburn play each other in their annual 'The Iron Bowl'?
I’m never conflicted when it comes to Auburn Football. Both Auburn and Alabama have outstanding academic institutions, but when we’re discussing the gridiron, I’m Auburn born and Auburn bred; I’m an Auburn man until I’m dead. Thus, my colors are always orange and blue, and I only have one chant: WAR EAGLE!