KOTZEBUE, Alaska -- Gov. Sarah Palin returned to the spotlight Tuesday with an appearance in a remote Arctic village where she stood by her decision to resign just as she tries to elevate her national profile ahead of a possible 2012 presidential run.
Palin signed a bill in this small town 30 miles north of the Arctic circle that is intended to bolster law enforcement in Alaska villages. She was greeted with cheers by about 300 people and briefly took the floor to dance to the beat of Inupiat Eskimo drummers. Many lingered to get their pictures taken with the popular Republican governor and former vice presidential candidate.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Palin defended her decision to step down after a year in which she has been bombarded with a series of ethics complaints that have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to investigate.
"You would be amazed at how much time and resource my staff and I, the Department of Law especially, spend on this every day," she said. "It is a waste. We are spending these millions of dollars not on teachers and troopers and roads or fish research and other things that are needed in Alaska."
Palin stunned the political world when she abruptly announced Friday that she would step down July 26. She spent the long holiday weekend fishing with her husband and kids briefly and attended an Independence Day parade. Her first official appearance was at the bill signing. She also gave several interviews while wearing waders from her family's fishing spot before flying to Kotzebue.
She has not said what she will do next, but a book deal is in the works. When asked if she will run for president, Palin responded, "That's certainly not within my immediate plans."
But Palin was quick to criticize President Obama, a possible sign of what's to come three years from now, ripping him over his economic plans.
There has been speculation that she has some legal issue that is not yet known to the public. But her lawyer said she has no legal problems whatsoever, and simply is tired of the hostile political climate, legal bills and other distractions.
Palin says the state will be better off with Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell as she gets consumed by a political climate that she considers vicious.
"Obviously conditions had changed so drastically on August 29, the day I was tapped to be VP," she said. "The opposition research and the games that began there -- which I think is the new normal in Alaska politics, until I hand the reins over to Sean Parnell -- have been so distracting."
"I had promised no more politics as usual," she said. "I had promised no more ineffectiveness and inefficiencies. We will progress the state better with Sean in the governor's seat and me fighting for Alaska on the outside of government because of the conditions that have changed."
Palin's resignation has set up a free-for-all for her job when her term ends in 2010. Parnell will serve out her final year and a half, but nearly a dozen people have filed letters of intent to run in 2010.
The list of candidates includes Sen. Hollis French, a Democrat from Anchorage who oversaw the so-called Troopergate investigation that looked into the firing of Palin's Public Safety Commissioner. The investigation served as a major distraction last year for Palin.
"I think Alaskans are ready for a change," Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said Tuesday. "They want people that will get in there, work hard and finish the job and do things in a professional manner."
While many political analysts argued that Palin's decision to step down hurt her chances at a presidential run, a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Monday night found that 53 percent of Americans felt the media coverage of Palin was unfairly negative and that 70 percent said their opinion of Palin hadn't changed since she decided to step down as Alaska governor.
While it remains to be seen whether Palin will seek the presidency in three years, 19 percent of voters said they would be very likely to vote for her in 2012 and another 24 percent said they would be somewhat likely.
The telephone poll was based on interviews with 1,000 adults late Monday. It had a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.