At times, it seemed like a flashback to the 2008 presidential campaign.
Sarah Palin stepped down as Alaska governor on Sunday with a fiery speech reminiscent of her days as running mate to Republican John McCain — when she frequently revved up crowds while attacking Democrats and the news media.
On Sunday, Palin took on old foes in the media, Hollywood and the Lower 48 states. As her audience shouted its approval, she scolded reporters for making things up, mocked Hollywood stars who have opposed wolf-control programs, and complained that "outside special interests still don’t get it."
Palin, 45, said she was resigning with more than a year left in her first term to take her political battles to a larger if unspecified stage and avoid an unproductive, lame duck status.
"With this decision, now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right, and for truth. And I have never felt that you need a title to do that," the former Republican vice presidential candidate said to raucous applause from about 5,000 people gathered Sunday at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks.
Palin called her 2 1/2-year tenure as governor a success, citing efforts to take on the state’s long-dominant oil industry and progress on development of a natural gas pipeline. She also cited ethics reform, but said "ironically, it needs additional reform" to stop partisan and frivolous complaints such as those that have dogged her in the past year.
Palin leaves office with her political future clouded by ethics probes, mounting legal bills and dwindling popularity. She has been targeted by nearly 20 ethics complaints filed by Alaska residents, most of which have been resolved in her favor. She did not refer directly to the ethics complaints in her 19-minute speech, but has repeatedly cited the financial and psychological toll of those investigations as a key reason she is stepping down.
Palin said Sunday her reasons for resigning "should be so obvious," but listed them again for the benefit of a supportive crowd that repeatedly interrupted her speech with applause and shouts of support. She said her departure would spare Alaska an unproductive, "politics as usual" lame-duck session, adding that she would always work for Alaska.
"When I took the oath to serve you, I promised, remember what I promised? To steadfastly and doggedly guard the interests of this great state like that grizzly guards her cubs, as a mother naturally guards her own. And I will keep that vow wherever the road may lead," she said.
Her first order of business as a private citizen is to speak Aug. 8 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. She also wants to campaign for political candidates from coast to coast, and continue to speak her mind on the social networking site Twitter, one of her favorite venues to reach out to supporters.
Free speech was a theme of her farewell speech at the crowded picnic in Fairbanks, as the outgoing governor scolded "some seemingly hell-bent on tearing down our nation" and warned Americans to "be wary of accepting government largesse."
"It doesn’t come free," she said.
Palin also took aim at the media, saying her replacement, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, "has a very nice family too, so leave his kids alone!"
And she told the media: "How about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit makin’ things up?"
She didn’t elaborate, but Palin said when she announced her resignation July 3 that she was tired of the media focus on her family and felt she had been treated unfairly by reporters and bloggers.
Friend and foe alike have speculated that Palin may host a radio or TV show, launch a lucrative speaking career or seek higher office in Washington, D.C.
Palin hasn’t ruled out any of those options, and her political action committee, SarahPAC, has raised more than $1 million, said Meghan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the committee and the Palin family.
Palin’s surprise announcement she was stepping down 17 months before the end of her first term pushed her favorability rating down to 40 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. Fifty-three percent of those polled gave her an unfavorable rating.
Last summer, almost six in 10 Americans viewed her favorably. The latest poll was taken July 15-18.
Parnell, 46, of Anchorage, was sworn in Sunday as the state’s new governor.
"I’m firmly convinced that Alaska’s greatest days are ahead," Parnell said in pledging to continue Palin’s policies, which he said "put Alaska first."
Palin received a warm welcome Sunday, both during her speech and as she served food at the annual Governor’s Picnic.
Among those present was Donna Michaels, 57, of Fairbanks, who wore a red T-shirt that said: "Palintologist."
The T-shirt defined a Palintologist as "someone who studies Palin and shares her conservative values, Maverick attitude and American style."
Michaels also held a poster board sign showing the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner when Palin announced she would resign. Michaels altered the banner headline "Palin steps down," replacing the last word with "up."
"She’s really not stepping down. She’s stepping up to do something bigger and better," said Michaels, who attended the picnic with her daughter and two granddaughters, one of whom who wore Sarah Palin-style eyeglasses.
Larry Landry, 51, of Fairbanks held up a red, white and blue sign that that read, "Quitting: the new American value." The other side read: "Thanks for the laughs."
Landry, a registered independent, said he respected Palin when she ran for governor in 2006, but he felt she changed during last year’s presidential campaign.
"She descended into ugly, divisive politics," he said.