Alaskans Consider Palin's Legacy As She Prepares to Leave Office

By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ANCHORAGE -- In November 2006, as Sarah Palin celebrated her gubernatorial victory at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, she told the crowd she would bring a "new energy" to the governor's office, stand up to "Big Oil" and usher in a new era of ethical reforms.

But less than three years later, Palin is calling it quits, and Alaskans offer mixed assessments of her legacy as she steps down with 18 months left in her term.

"This was a huge lost opportunity," said Democratic state Rep. Les Gara, who worked with Palin on several initiatives but became disenchanted with her as she took the national stage. "She was very popular for nearly two years, and she could have used that to accomplish great things for Alaska."

Others, like Anchorage resident Katherine Hicks, said that Palin in a short time shook up the state's political system. "We're proud of her. She went after them," said Hicks, who attended a recent anti-tax rally by Wasilla Lake. "She took on the good old boys. We won't forget that."

Palin, who shocked the political world last week with her abrupt resignation, praised her own performance in a message she posted on Facebook, saying she "accomplished more during this one term than most governors do in two." Her staff did not respond to repeated interview requests.

In her early days, Palin focused almost exclusively on raising taxes on oil companies and finding a way to build a natural gas pipeline, successfully brokering deals on both.

Alaskans hoping that Palin would tackle other pressing issues were disappointed when she put state matters on hold to join Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the campaign trail as his vice presidential candidate.

When she returned to Alaska, lawmakers said, she was combative and unfocused. Palin said the legislature was uncooperative and made progress difficult. Complicating matters were at least 19 ethics investigations of her conduct -- a new one was filed Monday accusing her of misusing her per diem travel expenses. Most of the complaints were filed by state residents under an ethics reform law that Palin signed shortly after taking office.

"The ethics law I championed became their weapon of choice," Palin said in her resignation speech last week.

Dozens of Alaskans said in interviews that they understand the obstacles she has faced but that they think she should have redirected her attention to her home state and honored her promise to "work together" with friends and enemies for the benefit of Alaska.

"It's like they say, 'Quitters never win, and winners never quit,' " said Wasilla resident Becky Stoppa, a Palin critic who stood yards away from Palin's parents at a community Fourth of July parade. "She made a promise. She's walking away from it."

During her early days as governor, Palin parlayed approval ratings of more than 80 percent into two deals that helped Alaska residents. As she had pledged during the campaign, she took on oil companies, further fueling her popularity.

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