Departing with a whimper

DEPARTING WITH A WHIMPER…. As expected, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) resigned yesterday, giving up her office half-way through her first term. Before officially handing over the reins to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R), Palin delivered a campaign-style speech at an event in Fairbanks, during which she predictably complained about the news media, her political opponents, and Hollywood “starlets.”

The former governor added that she “will be able to fight even harder” for her supporters, now that she has no office, no governmental power, no authority, and no influence over public policy. She didn’t elaborate as to why.

Arguably more interesting than Palin’s bizarre decision to quit with 18 months to go in her only term is considering how, exactly, she changed as an officeholder. TNR‘s Suzy Khimm had a good piece the other day exploring “how national exposure changed” her, pushing Palin “much further to the right than she had been,” to the disappointment of Alaskan lawmakers in both parties.

There are plenty of similarities between pre- and post-campaign Palin. Both avoided details, and preferred over-simplification. Both found the unglamorous work of governing to be tiresome.

But the Palin who was governor before the national campaign was something of a pragmatist, willing to compromise and engage opponents in the interests of advancing an agenda. By the time she returned to Alaska after Election Day, Khimm explained, Palin had become an inflexible, antagonistic ideologue, unwilling to work with almost anyone.

There’s no doubt that Alaska’s state government has been paralyzed since Palin’s return, with anger and frustration emanating from both the governor’s office and the state legislature. All of Palin’s major bills failed to pass this year’s first 90-day session. But conversations with both Republican and Democratic legislators reveal that Palin’s inability to get anything done has little to do with the media attacks the Alaska governor claims drove her from office. The lawmakers say it has more to do with how national exposure changed her, moving her much further to the right than she had been and making her nearly impossible to work with. And state Republicans seem just as incensed about it as the Democrats. […]

[U]pon returning to Juneau last fall, “she managed to alienate most of the 60 members of [the Alaska] House and Senate,” says Larry Persily, an aide to state Republican Representative Mike Hawker. “It wasn’t a matter of burning bridges — she blew them up.” […]

“The little bit of time she spent on policy, she devoted … to issues of national merit,” says Republican Representative Jay Ramras. “It wasn’t when but how she was going to throw Alaska under the bus.” But even as Palin grandstanded on her opposition to the funds and her willingness to withstand what she called “the slings and arrows” from both parties, she failed to communicate the specifics of her positions and dismissed lawmakers. When it came to legislative matters of any substance, “we got very little information from the state,” says Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault. “All I wanted was to know what her response was…. There were many times we couldn’t get a clear answer.” “We couldn’t get any decisions out of the governor,” says Persily, who spent two years working in the Alaska governor’s Washington office. “It had nothing to do with critics harping at her — it was a lack of attention to governing.”

Many of those who supported her statewide campaign in 2006 are left to wonder what could’ve been.