- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska | Brushing aside the criticisms of pundits and politicos, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said she plans to jump immediately back into the national political fray — stumping for conservative issues and even Democrats — after she prematurely vacates her elected post at month’s end.

The former Republican vice-presidential nominee and heroine to much of the GOP’s base said in an interview she views the electorate as embattled and fatigued by nonstop partisanship, and she is eager to campaign for Republicans, independents and even Democrats who share her values on limited government, strong defense and “energy independence.”

“I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation,” she said over lunch in her downtown office, 40 miles from her now-famous hometown of Wasilla — population 7,000 — where she began her political career.

“People are so tired of the partisan stuff — even my own son is not a Republican,” said Mrs. Palin, who stunned the political world earlier this month with her decision to step down as governor July 26 with 18 months left in her term.

Both her son, Track, 20, an enlisted soldier serving in Iraq, and her husband, Todd, are registered as “nonpartisan” in Alaska.

Mrs. Palin, who vaulted to national prominence when Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, chose her as his running mate last August, left the door open for a future presidential bid.

But she shot down speculation among Republicans that she might challenge incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the party’s nomination to the Senate next year, and she blamed her resignation as governor on the nasty, hardball tactics that last year’s presidential campaign brought to her state.

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“I’m not ruling out anything — it is the way I have lived my life from the youngest age,” she said. “Let me peek out there and see if there’s an open door somewhere. And if there’s even a little crack of light, I’ll hope to plow through it.”

Mrs. Palin did not name any candidates for whom she might campaign. Indeed, whether the polarizing Alaskan would be welcome on the campaign circuit is an open question. Republicans running in statewide races in Virginia and New Jersey — the only states with gubernatorial races in November — have offered only lukewarm responses when asked whether Mrs. Palin is welcome to campaign there.

“We don’t have any plans on having her in” to stump for gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie, the Associated Press was told by New Jersey Republican Party Chairman Jay Webber late last week. “We’re busy working to get Chris Christie elected and telling people about the failed record of [Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat].”

But Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he would welcome Mrs. Palin at his side in the tight primary fight he faces with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

While analysts and fellow politicians continue to debate the wisdom of her decision to resign, Mrs. Palin said she is eager to fight for her conservative beliefs when she leaves office.

The governor, 45, said she shared former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s view that Republicans, now trailing Democrats and independents in registration in many states, should back moderate to conservative Democrats in congressional districts and states where Republicans stand almost no chance of winning.

The object would be to build a majority coalition that reflects what polls suggest is the center-right tilt of the U.S. electorate as a whole.

A USA Today-Gallup poll found that her resignation from office bolstered her appeal among Republicans, two-thirds of whom say they want her to remain “a major national political figure.”

But 55 percent of independents say they would rather she exit the national stage. She is also unpopular among Democrats.

Mrs. Palin confirmed during the interview that she has signed a book contract but would not discuss how much it is worth — rumored to be $6 million or more. She also declined to discuss other employment prospects, including becoming a television commentator.

“I can’t talk about any of those things while I’m still governor,” she said.

The governor defended her decision to step down early, despite criticism by Democrats and Republicans that she risked being labeled a quitter.

She said constant attacks in the press and the barrage of ethics violation claims against her — all dismissed or pending — have cost state taxpayers dearly and made it nearly impossible for her to move forward with her agenda. The legal cases also forced her to go into debt for more than $500,000 in legal expenses.

“Pragmatically, Alaska would be better off” by allowing her lieutenant governor and fellow Republican, Sean Parnell, 46, to serve out her term, she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Palin said the state needs a new ethics policy after another ethics complaint was filed against her. The new complaint, filed Friday with the state personnel board, claims Mrs. Palin has been paid for media interviews, according to the Associated Press.

Mrs. Palin said she hopes the new complaint is “a wake-up call” to Alaskan lawmakers and the public that at new policy is needed.

“The only saving grace in this recent episode is that it proves beyond any doubt the significance of the problem Alaska faces in the ‘new normal’ of political discourse,” she said in a release that was posted online through her Twitter account. “I hope this will be a wake-up call — to legislators, to commentators and to citizens generally — that we need a much more civil and respectful dialogue that focuses on the best interests of the state, rather than the petty resentments of a few.”

In her interview with The Times, Mrs. Palin denied reports that the decision to resign had been made hastily with little notice to her family or staff.

“We had been contemplating this for months, so I didn’t surprise my family or the people around me,” she said, glancing at her top aide, Kris Perry, who was seated across the room from the governor during the interview. Ms. Perry smiled and nodded emphatically.

Among the barrage of ethics complaints against Mrs. Palin are many filed by Republican activist Andree McLeod.

“She put personal and partisan political interests before the state of Alaska,” Mrs. McLeod told The Washington Times.

Mrs. McLeod said she became friends with Mrs. Palin in 2002 and later grew disillusioned when, in Mrs. McLeod’s view, Mrs. Palin did not live up to her ethics-in-office promises.

Mrs. McLeod said Mrs. Palin, before and during her campaign for vice president, used her gubernatorial communications staff to promote herself at state government expense rather than to promote Alaska. Regardless of whether elected officials in both parties do it, she said, “A rule is a rule, and politicians and their staff who violate a rule get punished. Why should Sarah Palin be any different?”

Another friend turned critic, Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, said Mrs. Palin worked assiduously with Democrats in the Legislature.

“Her Alaskan Democrat allies stood for rapid government growth, increased government spending and taxing energy to the maximum and definitely did not stand for limited government, spending restraint, strong national defense and energy independence,” said Mr. Ruedrich, who described himself as an early mentor to Mrs. Palin.

The mention of Mr. Ruedrich’s name seemed to chill the atmosphere of the interview with the governor.

Even dealing with the political maelstrom she unleashed, Mrs. Palin flashed the down-home, personal touch that even critics say helped her forge an extraordinary bond with supporters on the campaign trail.

When a photographer prepared to take pictures of the interview, Mrs. Palin, wearing open-toed shoes, said laughingly, “Don’t get my toes in the picture — they are green on the bottom.”

Indeed they were. She said the marks were grass stains from mowing her lawn the previous day.