As Law Student, Bachmann Recalled as Smart, Conservative-Minded

As Law Student, Bachmann Recalled as Smart, Conservative-Minded

By Erin McPike - July 5, 2011

Michele Bachmann may come across as a "flake" to some members of the media, but that's not how her classmates at the O.W. Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University viewed her. Besides having a squeaky-clean reputation, Bachman is remembered by several of her classmates as being among the most studious in her class.

On the campaign trail, Bachmann often refers to her five years as a tax lawyer as a way to bolster her credibility on tax policy. Although details about that stretch of her career are hard to come by, her legal education offers a glimpse into her formative years.

"I was always sitting in the back row, and she was always sitting in the front row," recalled Mark W. Stewart, who is now a Toronto-based attorney. "She was keen and sincere and not much different than she is now," he added. "She was very prepared in class."

Another classmate, Rich Gradel, a year ahead of Bachmann at the Tulsa-based law school, said Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, had very good reputations and were regarded as "really nice folks."

"She was a very good student and was considered really intelligent," Gradel, a longtime Republican Party activist, said of the Minnesota congresswoman. "She had a reputation for just being sharp," he said, adding, "You have to have pretty good grades to be admitted to William & Mary from a place like Oral Roberts, which was a very new law school at the time."

After graduating from law school in 1986, Bachmann went on to earn a master of laws degree, an LL.M. in tax law, from the College of William & Mary, a well-regarded public university in Williamsburg, Va., in 1988.

Long before that, she met her husband-to-be while volunteering on Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign, which informed her start in politics. And it was her law school years that helped her chart her more conservative path.

The law school was named for Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's father, O.W. Coburn, after he put up enough money to open the institution affiliated with evangelist Oral Roberts. Bachmann's was the last graduating class in Oklahoma; the school shut down and most of the faculty and remaining students followed the law library to Virginia Beach, Va., where a new law school was opened at what is now known as Regent University. (Regent was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson as Christian Broadcasting Network University in 1978.)

As Stewart described it, the institution Bachmann attended "was a Judeo-Christian school, and that meant you had to confess your belief in Jesus as your savior."

He continued: "The groundswell of political issues at the time were focused on support for home schooling and opposition to abortion with a very conservative bent." Bachmann was known to be politically active at the time, Stewart said, adding, "The very fact that she was there would speak volumes about those beliefs."

This pedigree helps explain why Bachmann has so quickly become a force to be reckoned with in Iowa, where opposition to abortion and support for home schooling are paramount for a significant swath of Republican caucus-goers. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a onetime Baptist pastor, won the state's GOP caucuses three years ago by capitalizing on the sensibilities of conservative Christian activists. In March, Bachmann's impassioned speech to a group of home-schooling advocates in Des Moines served notice of her potential appeal.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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