FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin steps down Sunday giving few clues about her political future, which has been clouded by ethics probes, mounting legal bills and dwindling popularity.
Palin, who became a national political figure last year after she became the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate, has said little of what her life will be like as a private citizen. She is scheduled to speak Aug. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, and has said she plans to write a book, campaign for political candidates from coast to coast and build a right-of-centre coalition.
She also plans to continue speaking her mind on the social networking site Twitter.
“Wrapped up Anch Gov’s Picnic, awesome,” she wrote in a message posted Saturday, after an appearance in Anchorage. “Now road trip to Fairbanks for farewell speech/changing of the guard. Camper full of kids&coffee.”
Friend and foe alike have speculated that Palin may host a radio or TV show, or launch a lucrative speaking career. Her political action committee, SarahPAC, has raised more than $1 million, said Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the committee and the Palin family.
Stapleton disputed the notion that Palin is running for president in 2012 or has media deals lined up.
“I cannot express enough there is no plan after July 26. There is absolutely no plan,” she told The Associated Press. “The decision (to quit) was made in the vacuum of what was best for Alaska, and now I’m accepting all the options, but there is nothing planned.”
Palin’s surprise announcement July 3 that she was stepping down as Alaska governor 17 months before the end of her first term pushed her favourability rating down to 40 per cent, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. Fifty-three per cent of those polled gave her an unfavourable rating. The poll was taken from July 15-18.
Last summer, almost six in 10 Americans viewed her favourably.
Palin will hand over the governor’s office to Lt. Gov Sean Parnell at a Sunday afternoon picnic at a Fairbanks park. Parnell, 46, of Anchorage, has promised to push many of Palin’s initiatives, including controversial terms to build a natural gas pipeline.
“Sean knows he has big high heels to fill,” said Mark Lewis, moderator of a farewell picnic hosted by Palin on Saturday in Anchorage, the state’s largest city.
Parnell acknowledged he is likely to draw less attention than Palin, whose near celebrity status threatened at times to overwhelm her administration. He called Palin “a good, honourable and decent human being who loves Alaska.”
Critics have accused Palin of failing to pay attention to the details of governing and say she has aggrandized herself at the state’s expense.
Supporters – and there are many in the state and throughout the country – defend Palin as an outstanding leader with a strong Christian faith and unquestioned devotion to family.
Wilson Villanueva, 38, of Palmer, Alaska, attended one of Palin’s farewell picnics in her hometown of Wasilla and disputed the idea that she was quitting because she was bored or unhappy in her job. He thinks she is stepping down for a “a greater purpose – to save taxpayers the burden” of defending herself against nearly 20 ethics complaints, including allegations she traded on her position as she sought money for lawyer fees.
Palin cited the financial toll of the investigations for quitting before the end of her term.
“She’s not a quitter; she’s a fighter. She wants to fight for the Alaskan people and for the greater good nationally,” Villanueva said.
Randy Jedlicka, 31 of Anchorage, was less impressed.
He held up a sign at the Anchorage picnic asking why, if Palin can quit before her terms ends, soldiers in Iraq cannot do the same.
“I just don’t think it’s fair,” said Jedlicka, a former sailor who served in the Persian Gulf in the mid-1990s. “A lot of vets want to quit, but they can’t.”
Alaska’s first female governor arrived at the state capitol in December 2006 on an ethics reform platform after defeating two former governors in the primary and general elections. Her prior political experience consisted of terms as Wasilla’s mayor and councilwoman and a stint as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Unknown on the national stage until Sen. John McCain tapped her as his running mate, Palin infused excitement into the Republican’s presidential bid. But she also became the butt of talk-show jokes and Democratic criticism, targeted at news that the Republican Party had spent $150,000 or more on a designer wardrobe and what some considered poor performances by the Alaska governor in television interviews.
Former state House Speaker John Harris, a Republican with sometimes chilly relations with Palin, said he respects her decision to resign.
“I think she decided out of respect for her family – and especially her children – the attacks were not going to end until she left office,” Harris said.
Palin’s future is whatever she wants it to be, Harris added. Palin will be “a spokeswoman for ideals and ideas that she believes in – more conservative government, natural resource development – and she’s going to focus her energy on promoting candidates with similar ideas,” he said.
Harris, who is seeking to challenge Parnell for governor, said he thinks Palin will run for president in 2012, but said he has no inside information.
Stapleton said the answer will emerge in the coming weeks.
On Monday, “we’ll sit down and say, ‘OK, here are your options. How do you now want to effect that positive change for Alaska from outside the role as governor?”‘ Stapleton said.