There was praise and criticism in Juneau Friday for Gov. Sarah Palin and her surprise decision to leave the governorship early.
"This is bizarre, and I don't think it is good for Alaska," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.
Kerttula said Palin's powerful political presence helped push forward progress on an Alaska natural gas pipeline.
"I think at this time we need somebody who is a really strong advocate focusing on the gasline," she said.
Despite widespread speculation that Palin would not seek another term as governor and would instead focus on the 2012 presidential campaign, her mid-term resignation announcement was a shock to nearly everyone.
"I'm still dumbfounded by the announcement, it took me totally by surprise," said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.
Palin did not say why she quit and did not elaborate on her future plans.
She said in a release that she and her family "determined that it is best to make a difference this summer, and I am willing to change things, so that this administration, with its positive agenda, its accomplishments, and its successful road to an incredible future, can continue without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success. I look forward to helping others - to fight for our state and our country, and campaign for those who believe in smaller government, free enterprise, strong national security, support for our troops, and energy independence."
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he met with Palin for 45 minutes in Anchorage Wednesday before traveling to Juneau Thursday, and she gave no indication she intended to resign.
"I'm as surprised as all Alaskans by Gov. Palin's decision to step down with nearly two years left in her term," Begich said.
Even more surprised may have been Republican pollster Dave Dittman, who was quoted Thursday in the Christian Science Monitor predicting Palin would not only run for re-election, but win easily.
He was by no means alone, though. Conservatives4palin.com blogger Tim Lindell said, "None of us saw it coming and we're the most dedicated political junkies you will find anywhere. It took our breath away."
Juneau Republican Party Chair Ben Brown, who described himself as a "huge fan of Sarah, personally," said stepping down as governor could be a strategic move to run for president in 2012.
"It makes it easier to have an exploratory committee than if she'd remained as governor," he said. "It's difficult in this day and age to be a working governor and run for president."
Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, a former state legislator, will be sworn in after the governor's annual picnic in Fairbanks on July 26, and Lt. General Craig Campbell will take the No. 2 spot. Palin wasn't due for reelection until 2010.
Brown said that by stepping down now, Palin enables Parnell to run as an incumbent.
"If Sean decides to run for re-election, I imagine he'll be a very strong candidate," Brown said.
Kerttula said that handing Parnell the power of incumbency might be Palin's intent.
"One reason for this to happen would be to set Sean Parnell up to run for governor after having been in the seat for a year and a half," she said. "There are probably some Republican contenders who are not too happy about that."
Kerttula disagreed with Brown about how much of an advantage Palin's boost would be.
"He's been part of the debacle with this administration," Kerttula said.
Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, who was in Tenakee Springs when she heard the news Friday, said relations with the governor should improve under Parnell.
"I think he's going to be very good," she said. "I think there is going to be a net gain in relations with the Legislature."
Many in Juneau praised Parnell's service in the legislature and as lieutenant governor, calling him very competent and a fiscal conservative with a strong interest in making government work well.
"I think he did a good job as Finance co-chair," said Clark Gruening, a former Democratic legislator from Juneau. "He was thoughtful, approachable, a good listener - I think he's up to the job."
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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