ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Two years ago, Sarah Palin went from unknown Alaska governor to national headliner as the GOP vice presidential candidate. After that, no one could have imagined she'd be an afterthought in the 2010 Alaska gubernatorial election.
But when she abruptly quit 15 months ago, her replacement stepped in with nearly duplicate policies but little of Palin's drama.
Steady, vanilla Sean Parnell is now seeking his own four-year term, promoting an image of a business-friendly conservative with a reliable hand at the wheel of state government, and a governor ever willing to bash the federal government when it impedes developing the state's natural resources.
What some might consider a liability in image, Parnell sees an asset, or at least a reflection of what he's about.
"I am a strong leader," Parnell tells The Associated Press. "Don't mistake quiet respect for others as lack of resolve."
Though he rode on Palin's popularity to Alaska's highest office, he's the front-runner now in part because he's not her, says Bob Poe, who sought the Democratic nomination. Palin's adventures with the press, her wardrobe, her hockey mom shtick and her adoring crowds in other states created "governor fatigue," Poe says.
"Sean Parnell came in and at least calmed things down, and I think a lot of folks were happy about that because there was so much drama while Sarah Palin was governor," Poe says.
Parnell says he shares similar values and political philosophies with Palin. His goal has not been to be different, he said, but to be who he is. He points to his first year in the state House when he was picked by a business magazine as the most effective freshman legislator.
"It wasn't because I passed a lot of bills, because I didn't. That's not really what I was sent there for. But I did help a lot of legislators get a lot of good ideas passed.
"It's never been about the name or the seat so much as what could be done on behalf of the people we serve. That's a theme that has traveled with me since."
Parnell was born Nov. 19, 1962, in Hanford, Calif. His father, Pat Parnell, was a Democrat and served a term in the state House. His mother, he says, was a Republican. They moved to Alaska when Parnell was 10.
Parnell earned a degree from Pacific Lutheran University and a law degree in 1987 from University of Puget Sound School of Law. He and his wife, Sandy, have one daughter in college and another in high school.
Parnell says he's running on his record. One of his education initiatives, performance-based scholarships for high school students, gives an insight into his philosophy of governing. The program will carry a strong requirement of individual responsibility.
"I don't think any government has the constitutional mandate to give away stuff," he says. "I think we have the constitutional mandate to assure freedom of our people. That means to me, when the constitution says that we're to provide for public education, well, that education is a path of opportunity. I'm calling people to individual responsibility."
Similar programs in 20 or so other states have improved academic performance and graduation rates, he said.
On a top economic issue, a proposed pipeline to move North Slope natural gas to market, Parnell has continued support for Palin's hallmark Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. The law awarded an exclusive state license to build the pipeline and $500 million in state incentives to get the $30 billion project moving. The result has been successful open seasons for both the state licensee, TransCanada Corp., and a competitor, Denali-The Alaska Gas Pipeline, a joint venture of BP PLC and ConocoPhillips.
"It's the first time in Alaska's history that's happened, that the private sector has bid their gas into a pipe," he said.
Parnell ticked off other accomplishments: a comprehensive domestic violence initiative, a construction package to improve rural schools, settlement of a cruise ship industry lawsuit that will bring back vessels to state waters.
He promises more of "methodical, effective leadership" next year, including tax incentives to increase drilling, a program to combat child exploitation and senior citizen fraud, and continued challenges to the federal government if states' rights are restricted.