FAIRBANKS -- Sarah Palin blamed the news media and declared government spending can destroy "everything that is free," as she ended her brief but dramatic run as Alaska governor on Sunday.
Palin's resignation became official in front of a sun-baked crowd of thousands at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks as Sean Parnell was sworn in as governor to finish the 16 months remaining in her term.
Parnell, who has been Palin's lieutenant governor and her loyal ally during her two-and-half-years in office, gave a speech praising Palin and saying he would continue her course on major issues like the proposed natural gas pipeline. He called for limited state spending but said he also wanted to work on domestic violence and school dropout issues. He laid out broad goals without proposing any specific new policies.
"Here's my vision for our families: I want Alaska to be a place where every child has a safe home or a safe home to go to. I want Alaska to be a place where every child has the right to earn his or her way to college or job training ...and I will assure that Alaska continues to help the neediest among us, whether younger or elder, from public or private resources," the new governor said.
But it was Palin who the people came to see, either to show her their love, to jeer (there were some protest signs and heckling) , or simply to gawk at the celebrity spectacle she has become. Most seemed supportive, and "Thanks Sarah, we still love you," T-shirts sold out quickly for $15. But signs like "Go, Sarah, Go ... away," appeared in the crowd as well. Other people in the crowd were tourists who just wanted a chance to see the famous Palin, in between checking out the old sternwheeler SS Nenana and the park's replica Gold Rush town.
Palin didn't disappoint her supporters, tossing out rhetorical grenades at the federal government, the news media, animal-rights activists and the people whose ethics complaints she has said helped to drive her from office. Palin launched the first salvo of her speech at the media, saying democracy depends on it.
"That is why our troops are willing to die for you. So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, ya' quit makin' things up?" she said to hoots, hollers, and sustained applause from the crowd. She didn't say what she was referring to.
"And one other thing for the media: Our new governor has a very nice family too. So leave his kids alone," Palin said, again to enthusiastic applause.
Palin daughters Piper, Willow and Bristol, who embarked on a media tour this spring to promote abstinence as an alternative, watched the ceremony. Piper was holding Palin's baby son, Trig.
Palin said Alaska can resist "enslavement to big central government." She warned darkly of what she called the perils of taking government "largess."
"It doesn't come free, and often accepting it takes away everything that is free," Palin said. "Melting into Washington's powerful, caretaking arms will just suck incentive to work hard and chart our own course right out of us."
Palin said she resisted the federal economic stimulus, and she received strong applause for that as well.
Palin initially balked at accepting nearly a third of the stimulus money available to Alaska but ended up agreeing to take all but 3 percent of it after the Legislature rejected her concerns. The only piece she vetoed was $28.6 million for energy cost relief, and legislative leaders, saying her concerns of "strings attached" are unfounded, say they have the votes to override that veto in an Aug. 10 special session.
Palin also addressed her decision to resign, saying "some still are choosing not to hear why I made the decision to chart a new course to advance the state."
Hecklers in the crowd jeered during this part of her speech. But Palin supporters clapped enthusiastically when she said, in seeming response to the taunts, that her reasons should be obvious.
"It is because I love Alaska this much, sir," Palin said, addressing a heckler, "that I feel it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics-a- usual lame duck session in one's last year in office."
Palin recounted when she was sworn in as Alaska's first female governor, also in Fairbanks, in December 2006.
"Remember then, our state so desired and so deserved ethics reform. We promised it and now it is the law. Ironically, it needs additional reform to stop blatant abuse from partisan operatives," Palin said, referring to the ethics complaints against her.
Nearly all the complaints, which came from registered Republicans as well as Democrats, have been dismissed. But Palin settled one complaint and an investigator hired by the state last week found "probable cause" that Palin's legal defense fund, set up to help pay her bills defending against the complaints, violates Alaska law.
Palin spoke of the bipartisan successes of her agenda during her first two years in office, including what she called an "equitable" increase in the state oil tax, a move that incensed the oil industry.
She recounted the $1,200 state checks that Alaskans received last year as an "energy rebate," and brought up her vetoes of hundreds of millions of dollars in hometown projects that legislators wanted. She praised the passage of her approach to pursuing a natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48, including a license and $500 million in state money to the pipeline company TransCanada for its effort on the long-awaited project.
"What I promised, we accomplished," Palin said.
Parnell, after taking the oath of office, agreed and said he'd keep the course on the natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48. He promised as governor to work toward cheaper energy, limit state spending and guide the state through economic uncertainty.
He said both rural and urban Alaska are in need of help.
"We're not going to stand idle, we will position Alaska for investment and for growth, we will train and educate more Alaskans for jobs. State government is going to do this by maintaining a stable tax regime," Parnell said,
He repeated his call for the Legislature to stop the state's eight-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax from coming back into force on Sept. 1, a proposal that's been met by skepticism from legislators who suggest being the only state without a gas tax will hurt Alaska's clout in asking for federal road dollars.
Parnell called for the crowd to help him in his efforts. "Set your face and hand to Alaska's future. Don't even walk. Run with me to take responsibility for it. Be involved, this is your state, these are your resources, take heart, be strong and courageous, lean into your role in this Alaska family," Alaska's new governor urged.
Palin, in blue jeans and a black blazer, stood and gave a final farewell wave to the crowd as the speeches concluded and the ice cream came out. She shook hands for just a few minutes and then drove off in a truck with tinted windows, planning to take time to work on her upcoming book and weigh what's next for Sarah Palin.
"There is absolutely nothing planned after today," said her personal spokeswoman, Meg Stapleton. "No meetings planned, no flights booked, nothing."Alaska Politics blog: The day after - speculation continues on Palin's future
Palin career highlights
By SEAN COCKERHAM