The Palins were staying with Sarah's in-laws Bob and Blanche Kallstrom when the soon-to-be-ex-governor of Alaska sat down for an interview. The Kallstroms are two of the 2,500 full-time residents of Dillingham, Alaska, and owners of the Bristol Bay Inn and a hardware store. The town's population swells to 7,000 in the summer, as it's a magnet for sport fishermen. Todd Palin grew up in a house across the street from the hardware store a building that has since been "moved," Blanche says, to make way for another building.
About 10 years ago, the Kallstroms moved into a two-story wooden house with a bright orange garage door. The house is modern with two octagonal windows (Blanche says the carpenter who built the place was "some hippie" who put in all the windows). They have two cottages both also with bright orange doors at the end of the driveway. One is a type of sauna with a wood-burning stove. The other is a smoke shack for fish. Their catch of the day is hanging from a clothing line strung from the shack to a tree. The driveway is littered with boots, gray-and-red-tipped fishing socks, waders, scooters, tricycles and a green yoga ball with bunny ears for kids to bounce on. On an opposite line, fishing gear is being hung out to dry. Two cars bear McCain/Palin stickers and faded "Palin for Governor" stickers.
Sarah Palin is in a long-sleeved blue T shirt that reads "Go Slam a Salmon, Peter Pan Seafood" on the back, brown drawstring Capri cargo pants and sneakers, with a ponytail and a beautiful French manicure. She looks tired under her TV makeup. Todd and their daughter Piper are both there, wearing T shirts. Todd is outside chopping wood and feeding it into the stove. Piper is in the driveway holding the Palins' youngest son, Trig. She will later bring him inside to put him to bed, on her mother's instructions.
Sarah Palin gives me a tour of the two shacks, starting with the sauna. "Usually you stay out there until the fish aren't hitting anymore, and then you come in," she says. "And here, especially in Native Alaskan culture, you come in and take a seat, and you sweat everything out." She asks Todd how hot it usually gets. "220 [degrees Fahrenheit] is too hot," he says. "190's good." "Too hot for me," she says. "But these guys do it. So, everybody comes in after fishing and gets buckets of water, and the steam lets you sweat everything out, and it's all guys and it's all gals. That's the tradition."
Then she shows me the smoke shack. "This is usually the subsistence catch," she says, gesturing to the gutted, smoked fish drying in the 10:45 p.m. sun, "which means it's just going to be for personal use." Todd hands me a frozen pack of smoked salmon from a freezer. "And it's the best-tasting stuff in the world after a couple of weeks of drying. People then store it away and eat it through the winter. But they smoke it there and dry it here."
For the interview, Sarah Palin sits down on a curved cement wall next to the shacks, moving some red rubber gloves to make room.
TIME: I wanted to start out somewhat philosophically: Did you feel that the institution of government was no longer the best way to bring change about?
Sarah Palin: There certainly needs to be reform of government on a national level. On a state level, we've been successful in reforming our level. This being my third year, heading into my final year in office, though, knowing that my agenda to reform state government, to rein in the rate of government growth that our state had been on it was a trajectory that was going to put our state in dire straits if we couldn't rein it in. So we did that. We adopted an agenda that would responsibly develop our resources so that our state would be on good economic grounds but also in a position to more fully contribute toward energy independence for America. We have done that. We've reformed on a state-level government with ethics reform. My first year in office, we worked with the lawmakers to usher through ethics legislation that would disallow any of the previously accepted unethical practices in state government. So we did that. Now, heading into my final year in office, though, it's quite apparent that I will not be the one to effect more fully that continued reform on a state level. But Sean Parnell, our lieutenant governor, will be.
Is that because you feel you don't have a mandate anymore?
It's not that. It's that our administration is so stymied and paralyzed because of a political game that has been chosen to be played by critics who have discovered loopholes in the ethics reform that I championed that allows them to continually, continually bombard the state with frivolous ethics-violation charges, with lawsuits, with these fishing expeditions. We win the lawsuits, we win the ethics charges, we win all that but it comes at such great cost. The distraction, the waste of time and money, the public's time and money it's insane to continue down this road. And Alaskans who have paid attention to what's going on, they understand that.
Now, there's been some frustration with some in the media not fully reporting what's been going on, so this may come as a shock to some Alaskans. We have sat down with reporters, showed them proof of the frivolity, the wastefulness you know, millions of dollars this is costing our state to fight frivolous charges. And countless, countless hours from my staff, our department of law, from me every single day just trying to set the record straight. And it doesn't cost the adversaries a dime in this game. It costs our state so much in time and in resources. Alaskans that have paid attention to that, despite the media choosing not to fully report on the circumstances today, Alaskans understand why there had to be a shift here. There has to be a change of direction, and it makes sense for Alaska, my final year in office, to not only be honest with them and tell them that I'm not going to run again, knowing that we've accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, but taking it one step further, saying I'm not going to put them through a lame-duck session where there will be, obviously, more wasted time and money because of the political game being played right now.