Organizers of an Anchorage event that has been billing Sarah Palin for weeks as a star speaker were left scrambling Wednesday after learning that the former governor won't be there for tonight's event and claims to have never been asked.
It would be at least the fourth time in recent months that an anticipated Palin speech has fallen through after Palin and her camp disputed they had ever confirmed it. That includes the brouhaha over whether she'd speak at the annual congressional Republican fundraising dinner in Washington, D.C., this summer.
This time it's an event promoting an Alaska ballot measure aimed at making it illegal for teens to get an abortion without telling their parents. The Alaska Family Council has been advertising that Palin would give a speech and become the first official signer of the ballot petition tonight at ChangePoint, the Anchorage megachurch.
Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said Wednesday, in response to inquiries from the Daily News about tonight's event, that "this is the first we have ever heard of a speech." She said Palin is out of state and won't be there.
Stapleton declined to provide details on where Palin is and what she is doing.
Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery said it was news to him when a reporter told him that Stapleton was saying Palin had no knowledge of the speech, which his group has been promoting. He said organizers have been talking to Palin "contacts" for weeks about it.
"All we can do is take people at their word that we've worked with in the past," Minnery said. "We've been working for several weeks on the event, promoting it very heavily. It would be a grave disappointment if she doesn't show up but the show will still go on."
He declined to say who the organizers had been speaking to. "I'd just prefer to keep it kind of anonymous right now, especially since you're hearing something that's opposite of what we've been hearing."
Anchorage homes received automated calls this week from former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, saying, "I'm calling to ask you to meet with Gov. Sarah Palin and me this Thursday for an event to protect young girls facing abortion decisions."
Leman said in a Wednesday interview that he doesn't know what's going on and still hopes Palin might appear. "I'm not the one that made arrangements for the event so I can't speak to exactly who talked to whom and what was said," he said.
Palin and Star Parker, a national anti-abortion advocate, have been advertised as the draws for tonight's "kick-off celebration and public signing ceremony" as well as a private fundraiser to benefit the ballot measure earlier in the evening at an Anchorage home. The suggested donation is $500 a couple.
Palin spokeswoman Stapleton said Palin was indeed invited to the fundraiser.
"She had hoped to be able to attend but cannot return (to Alaska) in time for that private fundraiser," Stapleton said.
She said Palin notified the group that she would be out of town; Minnery said he didn't know anything about Palin saying she wouldn't be in Anchorage.
As of Wednesday evening, Palin's picture was still featured prominently on the Family Council's Web site promoting the public event, with a headline "Former Gov. Palin & Star Parker to Kick Off Campaign." The group's e-mail newsletter last week said that "following her speech on the importance of parental involvement in abortion decisions," Palin would sign the petition. The Family Council describes itself on its Web site as a "non-profit Christian public policy organization dedicated to protecting and strengthening the family."
Stapleton said Palin had previously agreed to be the first signer of the petition for the ballot measure pushed by the family council. But, "obviously since the signature-gathering process started a couple of weeks ago there was less pressure to get home to be the first to sign," she said Wednesday.
Minnery said organizers had already started collecting signatures but still planned for Palin's signature to appear as the first "official" one on the first petition packet. That packet was set aside with space for her to sign at tonight's event.
This was expected to be Palin's first public event since she resigned as governor a month ago. An advertised Aug. 8 Palin appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California had been previously billed as the first. But Stapleton crushed that talk with a July 30 note on Palin's Facebook page saying the former governor never promised to attend the California event and wouldn't because of "other work and commitments to take care of."
Sightings of Palin have been few and far between since. She spent some time in New York recently meeting with the editor and publisher of her book, due out in spring 2010.
She "has devoted a great deal of time and effort to the writing of her book," said Robert Barnett, the Washington, D.C., lawyer who brokered the former governor's book deal with publisher Harper Collins.
Palin's only consistent communication with the public since resigning has been posts on her Facebook page that are quickly picked up by the news media. They have largely been criticism of Democratic proposals for health care reform, including her contention that President Obama was supporting "death panels" and a Wednesday post praising Fox News host Glenn Beck and asking people to watch his show.
Beck is in the midst of controversy over his assertion last month that Obama is "a racist."
Sean Cockerham reported from Anchorage and Erika Bolstad from Washington. Find them on our Alaska Politics blog: adn.com/alaskapolitics.