The Magazine

Out of Alaska

Sarah Palin on why she resigned and what it means for her future.

Jul 20, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 41 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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In early July, while most Americans were preparing for a long weekend of celebratory parades, charred meats, and noisy fireworks, Sarah Palin made some plans of her own. The Alaska governor had been the object of endless media attention and assorted calumnies since she became John McCain's vice presidential nominee last August. Now she wanted to try something new. So, on July 3, in a speech delivered from her home on Lake Lucille in Wasilla, Palin told her constituents that not only would she not seek a second term, but she would also be transferring authority to Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell on July 26, abdicating her office with about 18 months left to go. The announcement, as one might expect, received global press coverage, dominated the weekend headlines, and gave stories about the late Michael Jackson a run for their money. Meantime, the political world went into sustained convulsions.

The fierce reaction surprised Palin. She is acutely aware of what the media and her opponents say about her. She heard some people say that the timing of her speech was odd. Not so. "Independence Day is so significant to me--it's sort of a way for me to illustrate that I want freedom for Alaskans to progress, and for me personally," she told me during a telephone interview on July 9. Others said the motivation for her resignation was not clear. "I'm like, 'Holy Jeez, I spoke for 20 minutes' " giving reasons, she said. Bloggers conjectured that a horrible scandal was looming over her. Nope. Palin says she even heard a rumor that she resigned because pornographic pictures of her were about to hit the Internet. This left her bemused. "Between which pregnancies did I get to pose for those?" she said sarcastically. The obstinacy of her enemies, the fact that they consistently attribute bad-faith to her and accuse her of double-speaking, continues to mystify her. Hearing all the innuendo, Palin said to herself, "Really? You can't just believe what I'm saying?"

One thing you quickly learn about Sarah Palin when you study her career is that she never, ever does things by the book. The lady knows how to make a splash. She specializes in surprise announcements. Her 2004 resignation from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, her 2005 declaration that she was challenging incumbent Frank Murkowski for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, her March 2008 revelation that she was seven months pregnant with her fifth child, then her August 2008 addition to the GOP presidential ticket and the subsequent shocker that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant: All galvanized public opinion and upset established patterns of doing business.

Palin likes gambles. Her career is filled with firsts. In 2006, Palin became the first woman governor in Alaska history (as well as the youngest). In 2008, she became the first woman to appear on a GOP presidential ballot. And on July 3, she probably became the first governor with a 54-percent approval rating to resign from office for reasons having nothing to do with scandal or appointment to another job.

Palin says she had been thinking about her decision for a while, and had talked to various people about it. In January, during her state of the state address to the Alaska legislature, she asked lawmakers to put the previous year's election behind them. "I asked them not to allow those distractions that were on the periphery to hamper the state's progress," Palin told me. But her plea went unheeded. "It became obvious in the last months especially that too many people weren't going to ignore those things on the periphery," she said. As the months passed, Palin arrived at the conclusion that she didn't want a second term as Alaska's governor. She had achieved what she had set out to do, so why bother with one more lame-duck legislative session in 2010? "I know that we've accomplished more in our two years in office than most governors could hope to accomplish in two terms," Palin said. "And that's because I hired the right people." For Palin to remain shuttling between Juneau, Anchorage, and Wasilla would waste both her and her constituents' time. And "I cannot waste time," she said. "I cannot waste resources."