By Philip Rucker and Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 4, 2009
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, accompanied by friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts.
The announcement that she will step down by the end of July stunned the political establishment, fueling speculation about why she is leaving office with 18 months left in her first term and whether her future will include a run for the presidency.
Palin offered few clues about her ambitions but 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, after deciding not to run for reelection as governor, she realized she did not want to finish out her term merely for the sake of doing so.
"As I thought about this announcement that I would not seek reelection, I thought about how much fun other governors have as lame ducks: They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions," she said.
"I'm not going to put Alaskans through that," she continued. "I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That's not how I'm wired. I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual."
She stood at a makeshift lectern surrounded by the family that accompanied her along one of the more improbable arcs in modern American politics: from obscure small-town mayor to Sen. John McCain's running mate; from mother of five to tabloid sensation; and from making a much-noticed speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention to delivering the circuitous resignation speech yesterday at her waterfront home.
Eleven minutes into an 18-minute talk that covered the history of Alaska and her dedication to the state, Palin said she will relinquish the governorship to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R).
"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 was elected governor in 2006 and has widely been seen as a leading 2012 presidential contender, said she had tired of "superficial, wasteful political blood sport." She said the decision has been "in the works for quite a while."
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 National Committee Chairman Michael S. 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 had refused 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 $8,100 for costs associated with trips she took with her children.
In recent weeks, Palin has feuded with David Letterman over jokes about her family that she considered inappropriate, and her political operation was embarrassed when it made contradictory statements about whether she would speak at a major Republican fundraising event in Washington. A critical profile in Vanity Fair this week fueled a public squabble between McCain's former campaign aides about Palin's fitness for the vice presidency, and coverage of her daughter's breakup with ex-fiance Levi Johnston has been constant and uncharitable.
Recent Alaska polls put Palin's approval rating in the low to mid-50s, a far cry from her high of about 90 percent.
Yesterday, 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. I know when it's time to pass the ball for victory."
In Alaska, Republican officials 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 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 Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, two stars once considered presidential hopefuls.
Beside the lake, Palin closed her remarks by invoking a quote that she attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction."
Staff writers Chris Cillizza and Anne E. Kornblut and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.