As She Steps Down, Palin Promises She'll Reclaim Ethics Crusade

By Kimberly Kindy and Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 25, 2009

ANCHORAGE -- Sarah Palin, who rose from obscurity to become Alaska's governor three years ago, began her career as a combative whistleblower crusading against state political corruption. She accused GOP leaders of violating ethics laws, then publicized details of the confidential investigations.

Now, as Palin prepares to step down Sunday, 18 months before the end of her term, she vows to resurrect her early crusader image on a national stage, even as she complains that she has been saddled with what she calls "frivolous" ethics complaints and legal bills.

"I'm not leaving the governorship because of any particular ethics complaint. Rather, I have explained that the millions of dollars spent by the state and the diversion of resources to address politically inspired records requests, personnel board costs and wasting staff time is unnecessary and harmful to the state," Palin said in written comments to The Washington Post. "I will take the battle nationally and I won't shy away from challenging the powerful, the entrenched, the corrupt and anyone standing in the way of getting our country back on the right track."

Palin, 45, sees state ethics reform as her lasting legacy. "We cleaned up previously accepted unethical actions," she wrote in a farewell column to Alaskans on her Web site.

Yet as she steps down, she and her attorney are demanding that whistleblowers be sanctioned for sharing details of pending investigations of her conduct. This week, her attorney threatened to sue whistleblowers for violating secrecy laws, and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R), who will replace her, asked the state's attorney general to take steps to "prevent leaks" in ethics probes.

Many complaints against Palin have been dismissed, a few are still pending, and several resulted in critical findings. But with accusations still swirling in the blogosphere, some observers say the ethics issues will continue to dog Palin as she repositions herself as a national Republican Party leader.

"You can't be a crusader immune from the slings and arrows of the fight, and then cite those attacks as justification for surrendering an elected office," said Paul Erickson, a GOP presidential strategist. "If she thought it was tough in Juneau with a bunch of petty, harassing complaints, then she has no idea what awaits a serious presidential contender."

Taking Accusations Public

Palin first became a serious force six years ago, as a recently retired mayor of Wasilla. She gained wide appeal by blasting corruption in Juneau and oil industry influence.

In August 2003, after being recently appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she acted on a tip. She dug up documents showing that fellow commissioner Randy Ruedrich, the state GOP chairman and a former oil executive, violated Alaska law by using state resources for political work. Palin took her findings to the attorney general and for weeks peppered investigators with inquiries. Then she went public, shaping a crusader image that helped propel her to the governorship. Day after day, she voiced her frustrations before investigators finished their work and called for Ruedrich's resignation. Palin's relentlessness and proof of ethics violations drove Ruedrich to resign and pay a record $12,000 fine. Ruedrich remains the state GOP chairman.

"As the saying goes, the most dangerous place you can be is between a grizzly sow and her cub," said longtime Alaska Republican operative Roy Burkhart. "But now I have to change that -- it would be between [Palin] and a television camera."

Burkhart said he advised Palin that publicly discussing details of ongoing ethics probes could violate state law. "She didn't listen," he said. "It's how she created her political career, by trying high-profile Republican public officials in the media."

Palin also targeted then-Alaska GOP Attorney General Gregg Renkes, who resigned in 2005 in an ethics flap.

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