State Senate President Lyda Green is dropping out of politics after polls showed her re-election bid was in trouble amid differences with Gov. Sarah Palin.
"Sometimes you just read the tea leaves and you do something else," Green said Friday.
The Wasilla Republican is withdrawing from her primary race against Linda Menard but will finish out her term that ends in January.
The abrupt announcement, which she made late Thursday night, stunned much of Alaska political world. It came even as her campaign appeared to be gearing up with re-election signs sprouting on lawns and roadsides in recent days and campaign fliers hitting voters' mailboxes.
Green was often the dominant figure in the state Legislature over the past two years. She turned Alaska politics on its head by joining with minority Democrats to form a bipartisan power-sharing coalition that installed her as the leader of the state Senate. Her decision not to run raises questions about the future of the coalition.
Green sparred repeatedly with Palin, who is also a Republican politician from Wasilla, and that chilly relationship appeared to play a role in her decision. Green said she'd felt for a while she'd been fighting upstream against her constituents.
Green and Palin were at odds on matters ranging from the timing of the governor's State of the State speech this year to how much to tax oil companies.
Green has been fighting against Palin's proposal to give TransCanada Corp. the state license and $500 million subsidy to pursue a gas pipeline. But Green said she found constituents siding with Palin, who has enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings ever for a governor.
"I just think there is such buy-in for the governor. They have great admiration and great respect for her, and they will follow it anywhere, and some of it is not right," Green said.
Green was in a tough fight in the August Republican primary against Linda Menard, who has ties to Palin and is married to the Mat-Su Borough mayor. Green acknowledged hearing about a poll that showed her trailing Menard substantially, with Green's numbers in the high 20s or low 30s. Green said she takes polls with a grain of salt, but it lessened her enthusiasm for fighting through a tough primary.
"At some point, you think, I'm not matching up with what people want," Green said.
TROUBLE IN THE POLLS
At least three polls showed Green in trouble. Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman did one of them for Green just last week. Another was commissioned by NEA-Alaska, the state teacher's union, and done by pollster Ivan Moore.
Union president Bill Bjork said he believes "Linda Menard would have handed (Green) her lunch."
Former Republican legislator Andrew Halcro, who had battled with Green in the past but was supporting her in this election, said he believes Palin would have "pulled out all the stops" to help Menard defeat Green in the primary.
"Let's face it, in a popularity contest between Senator Green and Governor Palin, I don't think there's any question who the smart money is on. ... I think (Green) just kind of looked at the writing on the wall and said why not just accept it for what it is and call it a day," Halcro said.
Green seemed to be running hard for the seat until recently. Campaign postcards inviting voters to a "neighborhood coffee" with Green next week were showing up in Valley mailboxes even on Friday. Her campaign signs are still everywhere in Palmer and Wasilla.
Supporters couldn't believe it when she announced late Thursday night she was dropping out. Green called Eddie Grasser, a longtime supporter, just after 10 p.m. with the news.
"I think my jaw dropped," he said.
Menard said she was also very surprised when Green dropped out. Her campaign manager, Shelly Heiserman, said it "makes life a little easier." Menard will now face Democrat Erick Cordero Giorgana in the November general election.
Green said she didn't tell anyone but her closest staff because she didn't want the information to leak out ahead of time.
"We thought we'll do this and then we'll apologize for doing this," she said.
The Legislature is currently in a special session to decide whether to approve Palin's backing of TransCanada's gas pipeline project. Green said in a letter released Thursday that she made the choice not to run after seeing a majority of legislators, as well as of her constituents, favor Palin's plan.
Green was first elected in 1994, part of a Republican wave in Mat-Su that also included Vic Kohring, Scott Ogan and Bev Masek. While the others eventually left the Legislature under a cloud -- Kohring is going to federal prison this month -- Green steadily rose through the ranks.
She won the Senate presidency in 2006 over North Pole Republican Sen. Gene Therriault. Neither had enough Republican votes within the Senate to win the powerful post outright, and Green's side began courting Democrats for the bipartisan coalition.
Green often ruled the coalition with a light hand. She fiercely opposed Palin's push to raise oil taxes last year, for example, but didn't try to use procedural power to shut down the coalition's Democrats from joining with Therriault's group of out-of-power Republicans to push it through the Senate.
DEMOCRATS IN THE COLD?
Green's decision to drop from the race brings up questions about what happens to the coalition after the fall elections.
"I think this basically dissolves it," said former Republican legislator Halcro. "I don't see much hope for it. ... Unless the (Democrats) pick up a seat somewhere else, or two seats, I think they are going to be back in the minority."
Pollster Dittman agreed. But Senate Majority Leader Johnny Ellis, a Democrat from Anchorage, said the bipartisan coalition can survive without Green. People have seen what can be accomplished when Republicans and Democrats share power, he said.
"No one is indispensable," Ellis said. "In Alaska politics, there's been a shift."
Green, who will turn 70 this year, seemed relieved to have made the decision Friday. She sat outside her front door on a small iron bench, and talked about plans for the future, including her passion of making decorative pillows and purses.
Nearby on the garage floor lay dozens of bright green and white "Lyda Green. Republican Valley Senator" campaign signs.
"I'm really just fine," she said, smiling. "I had always said I probably wouldn't run after 70."
Lyda Green biography
Born: Oct. 16, 1938, Livingston, Texas
Moved to Alaska: 1962
Lived in Wasilla: Since 1984
Family: Husband, Curtis Green; three children; eight grandchildren
Occupation: Business owner
Previously: West High school teacher, 1963-64; co-owner of Anchorage Racquet Club, 1978-1988; Mat-Su Community College adjunct instructor, 1991-1993
Elected office: Alaska Senate since 1994, Senate president since 2006