For Palin, Act I closes, exit stage right

She resigned as Alaska's governor Sunday with her typical populist flare, blasting the president's policies and the press. But details of her future remain a mystery.

Nathaniel Wilder/REUTERS
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, with husband Todd, waves to crowd upon arriving at the inauguration of Sean Parnell with wife Sandy at the annual Governor's Picnic in Fairbanks, Alaska, Sunday.

In her last speech as Alaska’s governor, Sarah Palin sought to leave America with no doubts that though she has retired from public office, the feisty hockey mom – aka "pit bull" in lipstick – who accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination last November remains.

Ms. Palin formally turned over the Alaska governorship to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, leaving her post 1-1/2 years early, at the annual governor’s picnic in Fairbanks Sunday. But some of her more pointed comments seemed aimed not toward the constituency she was leaving behind, but at the nation at large.

She took a shot at advocates of government programs, including President Obama and his economic stimulus: “We can resist enslavement to big central government,” she proclaimed.

She scoffed at those who questioned her decision to leave office early without having another position lined up. “It should be so obvious to you,” she said to applause. “With this decision now I will be able to fight even harder for you for what is right, and for truth. And I have never felt that you need a title to do that.”

And she had some “straight talk” for some in the press: “Democracy depends on you.... So how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?” she said, to more thunderous applause. "Our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone."

For Palin, Monday is the first day of a new career that remains a mystery to anyone outside her innermost circle of friends and advisers. For Alaska, it is a day simply to get back to business – including, perhaps, overturning some of Palin’s final decisions as governor.

Sunday, however, seemed more celebration – and anticipation – than retrospection. It was the third of three governor’s picnics – first in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, then Anchorage, and last Fairbanks.

The picnics are a summer tradition that all Alaska governors have honored, but Palin’s celebrity and her impending departure drew thousands of backers, star-struck tourists, die-hard Alaska supporters, and the national news media.

Fans included Tammy Thompson, who braved a downpour at the Anchorage picnic to carry around a sign that proclaimed: “SARAH, YOU’RE AS GREAT AS ALASKA!”

Ms. Thompson said she was sympathetic to Palin’s decision to quit. “She’s got to do what she’s got to do,” Thompson said. She hopes that includes a run for president in 2012. “The time is right, because we need a good woman who knows what womanhood is all about. God bless her,” she said.

Alaska politics is expected to be much quieter with Mr. Parnell at the helm. The new governor, an attorney and former state legislator, is considered more workman-like and much less charismatic than his predecessor. An opponent once derided him as “Captain Zero.”

“He’s boring, I guess, as compared to Sarah Palin. But then I guess many people would be,” says Jerry McBeath, a political scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Even with Palin gone, however, the legislature is not quite done with her.

Lawmakers are set to hold a special session Aug. 10 to handle unfinished business left by the departed governor. The headliner: an expected override of Palin’s veto of $28 million in federal stimulus funds for energy-conservation projects that would be directed toward poverty-stricken rural areas.

Says state Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who has expressed exasperation at what he considers Palin’s emphasis on national ambitions at the expense of state interests: “For all of us, quite frankly, it’s just going to be another day at the office.”


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