- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

FAIRBANKS, Alaska | Sarah Palin stepped down Sunday as Alaska governor to write a book and build a right-of-center coalition, but she left her long-term political plans unclear and refused to address speculation she would make a 2012 presidential bid.

In a fiery campaign-style speech, Mrs. Palin said she was stepping down to take her political battles to a larger if unspecified stage and avoid an unproductive, lame-duck status.

“With this decision, now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right, and for truth. And I have never felt that you need a title to do that,” Mrs. Palin said to raucous applause from about 5,000 people gathered at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks.

Her first order of business as a private citizen will be to speak Aug. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. She also wants to campaign for political candidates from coast to coast, and will continue to speak her mind on the social-networking service Twitter, one of her favorite venues to reach out to supporters.

Free speech was a theme in her farewell speech at the crowded picnic in Fairbanks, as the outgoing governor scolded “some seemingly hell-bent on tearing down our nation” and warned Americans to “be wary of accepting government largess. It doesn’t come free.”

Mrs. Palin also took aim at the media, saying her replacement, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, “has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone!”

And she told the media: “How about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit makin’ things up?”

She didn’t elaborate, but said when she announced her resignation July 3 that she was tired of the media focus on her family and felt she had been unfairly treated by reporters and bloggers.

Friend and foe alike have speculated that Mrs. Palin may host a radio or TV show, launch a lucrative speaking career or seek higher office in Washington.

Mrs. Palin hasn’t ruled out any of those options, and her political action committee, SarahPAC, has raised more than $1 million, said Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the committee and the Palin family.

Ms. Stapleton said Mrs. Palin is still deciding what her future will be.

“I cannot express enough there is no plan after July 26. There is absolutely no plan,” she told the Associated Press.

Mrs. Palin’s surprise announcement she was stepping down 17 months before the end of her first term pushed her favorability rating down to 40 percent, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll. Fifty-three percent of those polled gave her an unfavorable rating.

Last summer, almost six in 10 Americans viewed her favorably. The latest poll was taken July 15-18.

Nearly 20 ethics complaints had been filed against Mrs. Palin, and the outgoing governor cited the resulting investigations’ financial toll - both on her and the state - for stepping down. An independent investigator looking into the complaints has found evidence she may have violated ethics laws by trading on her position as she sought money for lawyer fees, according to a report obtained recently by the AP. Most of the other complaints have been dismissed as lacking merit.

Mr. Parnell, 46, of Anchorage, was sworn in Sunday as the state’s new governor.

“I’m firmly convinced that Alaska’s greatest days are ahead,” Mr. Parnell said in pledging to continue Mrs. Palin’s policies, which he said “put Alaska first.”

Mrs. Palin received a mostly warm welcome Sunday, both during her speech and as she served food at the annual Governor’s Picnic.

Alaska’s first female governor arrived at the state Capitol in December 2006 on an ethics-reform platform after defeating two former governors in the primary and general elections. Her prior political experience consisted of terms as Wasilla’s mayor and councilwoman and a stint as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Unknown on the national stage until Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain tapped her as his running mate, Mrs. Palin infused excitement into the Republican’s presidential bid. But she also became the butt of talk-show jokes and Democratic criticism, especially after it was revealed that the Republican Party spent $150,000 or more on a designer wardrobe for her.

Former state House Speaker John Harris, a Republican with sometimes chilly relations with the outgoing governor, said he thinks Mrs. Palin will run for president in 2012, although he has no inside information.

Ms. Stapleton said the answer will emerge in the coming weeks.

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