ANCHORAGE – With one day left until she steps down as Alaska governor, Sarah Palin retained an air of mystery about her future plans. And if husband and self-titled “First Dude” Todd Palin knew anything more, he wasn’t saying.
“We’ll play it by ear,” said Todd Palin in a brief interview alongside his black Dodge pick-up truck. “We’ll take a little breather and go from there.”
Gov. Palin, speaking for less than five minutes at a Saturday afternoon picnic here, paid tribute to the military and urged a few thousand people gathered in a downtown park to remember that their freedoms are protected by those who serve.
She spent much of the day under a tent, dishing out salmon burgers and hot dogs to the hundreds who waited in line for a glimpse at the governor and a free lunch.
While the outgoing governor was serving one of Alaska’s signature dishes, Todd Palin put their son Trigg on his shoulders and greeted a few supporters and chatted with some of the event’s volunteers. The picnic, replete with live music and children's games, is an annual affair for the governor but it took on the feel of a goodbye celebration ahead of Palin’s resignation.
Yet few here or anywhere else in the state know just what Palin is leaving state government for.
Todd Palin did say that Alaska would remain their home base and indicated that, despite the millions that may come their way after his wife leaves office, he had no plan to give up his blue-collar jobs.
“I’ll always be a fisherman, I’ll probably always be out working on the slope,” he said, alluding to his oilfields job in the state’s far-northern tier.
The man who will become governor Sunday, Palin's lieutenant governor and ally, Sean Parnell, offered even less than the governor’s husband.
“You’ll have to ask her,” Parnell shot back when asked what Palin’s plans were, just minutes after being told by the event emcee that he “has big high heels to fill.”
That was made difficult by the coterie of staff and security around the governor. All were engaged in aggressive crowd control, keeping the gaggle of onlookers and a handful of reporters a distance away from the jeans-and-fleece clad Palin.
The governor did, though, offer the barest of hints on her Twitter page late Friday night, where she described the address she’ll deliver upon stepping down Sunday at a final picnic in Fairbanks as a “transition speech.”
Just exactly why she’s leaving and what she’ll be transitioning to what as a topic of intense curiosity for those at Saturday’s picnic. There were plenty of local supporters, some baring signs and one even holding up a “Go Sarah Go” t-shirt with a fishing pole.
But just as at her hometown picnic Friday night in Wasilla, many of those in attendance in Anchorage were not from Alaska. Rather, they were in the state on business or for a summer vacation and interrupted their plans to see Palin in person.
Doreen and Tom Barrows live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, but own a Golden Corral franchise in Anchorage and read about the event in the local paper.
“She’s plain-spoken, speaks for the people and there doesn’t seem to be anything fake about her,” said Doreen Burrows, wearing a red, white and blue moose broach that said “Palin Power.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the outsiders seemed to treat Palin and her family with more awe than the Alaskans.
Call it genuine star-power or fleeting celebrity, but some in the crowd acted like they were tweens and the governor and her family the Jonas Brothers.
“Is this Bristol here,” asked a vacationing Californian named Chris Suyenaga to nobody in particular, pointing at the Palin’s oldest daughter a few feet away under the food tent.
Soon after, Suyenaga implored Todd Palin: “She’s got to be our next Ronald Reagan.”
At this, the First Dude said nothing and put on his Oakleys.
A few minutes later, Suyenaga whipped out his cell phone to dial a friend. “You won’t believe who I just met – Todd Palin,” he said.
Not all at the picnic were swooning, however.
Randy Jedlicka, who said he was a Navy veteran who had recently moved up to Alaska, stood for much of the afternoon holding up a sign that read: “A Lot Of Vets Want 2 Quit Cause Of Bad Press.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that she’s a government official, she can just drop down and quit in the middle of it,” said Jedlicka, sporting a “Barack the Vote” t-shirt. “You’ve got soldiers dying and they can’t quit.”
There were also some who just came, as one Anchorage resident put it, “for the spectacle of it.”
Maurice Coyle, another city resident attending the picnic, was in that category. With two other friends, all of whom did not support Palin, Coyle lamented how his home state had become identified with a governor who was not even completing a single term.
“It becomes the first question anybody asks when they find out you’re from Alaska,” he said of his trips to the Lower 48. “It used to be, ‘Do you live in igloos?’ And now they want to know what you think about Sarah.”