Palin to quit, stunning her state, party

News fuels rumors of a 2012 run

Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska made the surprise announcement in Wasilla. Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska made the surprise announcement in Wasilla. (Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman)
By Philip Rucker and Eli Saslow
Washington Post / July 4, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Sarah Palin, the Republican Alaska governor who captivated the nation with a combative brand of folksy politics, announced her resignation yesterday in characteristic fashion: She stood on her back lawn in Wasilla, speaking into a single microphone, surrounded by friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts. Noisy geese interrupted the speech.

The announcement that she would step down by the end of July, with 18 months left in her first term, stunned the political establishment, providing an endpoint to this chapter of her career and fueling speculation about her plans.

Palin said she arrived at her decision in part to protect her family, which has faced withering criticism and occasional mockery, and to escape ethics probes that have drained her family’s finances and hampered her ability to govern. She said leaving office is in the best interest of the state and will allow her to more effectively advocate for issues of importance to her, including energy independence and national security.

“I love my job and I love Alaska, and it hurts to make this choice, but I’m doing what’s best for them,’’ Palin said, the sun glinting off a seaplane on Lake Lucille behind her.

Palin, 45, said that she knew she would not run for reelection as governor and that she did not want to be a “lame duck’’ merely for the sake of serving out the remainder of her term.

“I cannot stand here as your governor and allow the millions of dollars and all that time go to waste just so I can hold the title of governor,’’ she said.

She stood at a makeshift lectern surrounded by the family that accompanied her along one of the most unusual arcs in modern American politics: from obscure small-town mayor to Senator John McCain’s running mate; from mother of five to tabloid sensation; and from making the keynote speech at the Republican National Convention to delivering the roundabout remarks yesterday at her waterfront home.

Eleven minutes into an 18-minute speech that covered the history of Alaska and her dedication to the state, Palin said she will relinquish the governorship to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell.

“All I can ask is that you trust me with this decision and know that it is no more politics as usual,’’ she said.

Palin, who has widely been seen as a leading 2012 presidential contender, said she had tired of “superficial, wasteful political blood sport.’’ She did not specify what she will do next.

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said later in a statement that Palin is “an important and galvanizing voice’’ in the GOP and will help the party’s gubernatorial candidates this fall in Virginia and New Jersey.

Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said Palin plans to expand her role in the national party. “Part of her decision is she wants to spend more time campaigning for candidates,’’ Ayers told Fox News.

He added that some lawmakers and activists in Alaska have been doing “everything they can to stymie her progress,’’ and that Palin determined she could no longer “make significant change in the state.’’

The state of Alaska has spent almost $300,000 investigating ethics complaints against Palin and her staff, including her firing of a public safety commissioner who said he was terminated over his refusal to dismiss a state trooper involved in a messy divorce with the governor’s sister.

Palin said she and her husband, Todd, have spent $500,000 “just to set the record straight.’’ She has been the subject of 15 ethics probes, 13 of which have been resolved by the state Personnel Board with no findings of wrongdoing. The other two are pending. One of the resolved complaints led to Palin’s agreement to reimburse the state by $8,100 for costs associated with trips she took with her children.

Recent Alaska polls put Palin’s approval rating in the low- to mid-50s, a far cry from her high of about 90 percent.

The governor has remained in the news lately, and rarely for political reasons. Her last months have included a spat with David Letterman over jokes she considered inappropriate, a critical profile in Vanity Fair that fueled a public squabble among McCain’s former campaign aides about Palin, questions about her appearance at a Republican fund-raiser, and near-constant coverage of her daughter’s breakup with her fiance, Levi Johnston.

Using a sports analogy, the former high school basketball star once nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda’’ said: “A good point guard, here’s what she does. She drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket, and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so the team can win. That’s what I’m doing. I’m passing the ball.’’

Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton rejected the notion that the governor was better positioning herself for a national bid. “She is not focused on 2012. She is focused on making a difference on the topics she finds so dear: energy independence [and] national security,’’ Stapleton said.

Republican officials in Alaska said they had been talking with Palin and her advisers about whether she would run for reelection in 2010, but had no idea she was considering stepping down before her term was finished. “I was very surprised that she elected to step down, that she didn’t want to be a lame-duck governor for 18 months,’’ said Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich.

Palin said her children encouraged her to leave office, in part because they were upset at seeing their little brother, 14-month-old Trig, who has Down syndrome, “mocked and ridiculed by some pretty mean-spirited adults.’’ She said her decision had been in the works “for a while’’ and was based on prayer and talking with her family.

“I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous,’’ she said. “Well, in response to asking, ‘Hey, you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children’s future from outside the governor’s office?’ It was four yeses and one ‘Hell, yeah!’ And the ‘Hell, yeah’ sealed it.’’

The decision by one of the Republican Party’s most popular grass-roots politicians to leave office sent shockwaves through the GOP, a party still reeling from its 2008 electoral losses and from the sudden falls of Senator John Ensign of Nevada and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, two stars once considered presidential hopefuls.