SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Sarah Palin says she's quitting her job as governor of Alaska at the end of July - a year and a half early. This decision follows a bruising 10 months in the national spotlight, first as John McCain's running mate and as a possible contender for the Republican nomination in 2012.
As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, it is not at all clear what Governor Palin's decision to step down may mean for her political future.
MARTIN KASTE: There had already been some talk that Palin might not run for reelection next year, especially if she was putting together her own presidential campaign. But at her backyard news conference in Wasilla yesterday, she took things a step further.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): With this announcement that I'm not seeking reelection, I've determined it's best to transfer the authority of governor to Lieutenant Governor Parnell.
KASTE: She said she didn't want to end up as a lame duck governor. But that wasn't the only reason she gave. She talked about the numerous ethics complaints that have been filed against her, especially after she became a national political figure. A state ethics board has never found her at fault in any of those complaints, but she says she doesn't want the state to have to keep defending her.
And on top of all that, she also says her family voted for her to step down.
Gov. PALIN: It was four yeses and one hell-yeah, and the hell-yeah sealed it.
KASTE: But with the governor giving so many reasons for this abrupt announcement, it left many Alaska politicians just scratching their heads.
State Senator HOLLIS FRENCH (Democrat, Alaska): Everybody was getting ready for a quiet Fourth of July weekend and suddenly the big bomb dropped out there in Wasilla.
KASTE: Democratic State Senator Hollis French has often been at odds with Palin, especially over ethics complaints, but he says he can't figure out why she'd step down now.
Sen. FRENCH: Many people have speculated that the governor was perhaps not going to run for reelection to prepare herself for her national run. But to step down in a middle of her term is completely un-Alaskan.
KASTE: Palin's image has suffered in the state recently, especially after she blocked some of the federal stimulus money that was intended for Alaska. Some saw this as a political move meant to build her conservative credentials on the national stage. But Palin still enjoys a deep reservoir of goodwill with many in Alaska.
Ms. MILLIE MARTIN (Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly): She'll be missed.
KASTE: In the fishing town of Homer, Millie Martin, president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, still believes in Governor Palin as a defender of the little guy.
Ms. MARTIN: The fact that she was there, that she was a strong supporter of the people of the state of Alaska, the average citizen of the state of Alaska. She tried to be there.
KASTE: Of course people outside Alaska are now wondering what this all means for Sarah Palin's national career. The closest she came to answering that question yesterday was a sports analogy that harkened back to her days as a high school basketball star. She says right now she's like a good point guard who's been targeted by national political forces.
Gov. PALIN: Here's what she does: she drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up - because she needs to keep her eye on the basket - and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. And that is what I'm doing.
KASTE: It's anyone's guess whether that means Palin is giving up on the shot or whether she's hoping to loop around, get the ball back and take it from a better angle.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.