Palin's Wasilla book signing feels like a homecoming

AT HOME: Only signs seen for conservative causes or Christmas.

December 22, 2009 

WASILLA -- Sarah Palin was treated like a homecoming queen when she brought her national book tour to Wasilla on Tuesday.

About 1,000 people flocked to the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Palin's hometown to get the former governor and Republican vice presidential candidate's autograph on her best-selling memoir.

"Going Rogue" has sold more than 1 million copies. Palin kicked off her book tour in November, hitting some of the political battleground states from the 2008 election and drawing thousands of fans. The tour, despite its GOP-friendly itinerary, did draw some protestors in places including Norman, Okla., and Rochester, N.Y.

At the Wasilla signing, many people talked about "Sarah" like she's a member of the family. The only signs in sight had to do with conservative causes or Christmas. Representatives of Alaskans for Parental Rights -- a new group trying to get parental consent for abortion on the statewide ballot next year -- trolled the crowd for petition signatures.

Palin got a rousing welcome from about 750 people waiting below when she strode up the ramp to the second floor of the sports center at 11 a.m., wearing black boots with four-inch heels and a red jacket covered in raised cloth roses.

"It's her hometown and remember, everybody is her friend, everybody is her parents' friend and we're all friends of the family," said Lyn Carden, executive director of the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce.

Many of the people waiting in lines on the sports center's indoor turf floor said they live in the Valley. Several said they knew Palin or her family personally.

Elsie O'Bryan, a former Houston city councilor, served in local politics with her.

Angelina Klapperich -- 15, and a beauty pageant contestant -- attends Colony High School with one of Palin's daughters.

It's a wonder retired teacher Nancy Taylor had to wait in line at all, given her connections. As a teenager, Palin babysat Taylor's kids. Taylor taught in the Mat-Su School District with Palin's father, Chuck Heath. And it was Taylor's niece who beat out Palin for the Miss Alaska crown in 1984.

At the time, Palin jokingly said something like, " 'Shucks ... almost,' " Taylor remembered. "I was so impressed with her attitude. She could have been so negative."

The event Tuesday marked the first chance for the general public to attend a Palin book signing in Alaska. Earlier this month, Palin signed copies at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage and Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, but neither of those events was open to the general public.

Palin signed books on the upper floor of the sports center with her husband, Todd. Fans waited in lines downstairs and then were ushered upstairs in small groups during the three-hour event.

About 45 people waited outside when the center's doors opened at 7 a.m., said Carden.

Still, some expressed surprise the crowds weren't even larger.

Local bookseller Shannon Cullip set up a table to sell copies of "Going Rogue." By just before noon, with the book-signing line starting to ebb, Cullip had sold about a third of the roughly 1,000 books she'd brought.

Not every attendee was welcome. Dennis Zaki, an Anchorage photographer and videographer who until recently ran the Web site Alaska Report, checked in at the media table and was told by Wasilla Recreation and Cultural Services Manager James Hastings that he wasn't welcome.

"He said because this is a paid event, they can ban anybody they want," Zaki said. He didn't fight it, he said.

Zaki said he was told that he and a couple of Alaska bloggers were on the list, with photos to identify them.

Hastings said Zaki was right -- the signing was a private event paid for by Palin's publisher, Harper Collins, and Zaki and the others were not invited.

"At the end of the day, if something had gone wrong, it would have been my responsibility," Hastings said. "If I take three minutes on Google I can see that, given the nature of the people who were here, it wasn't in his (Zaki's) best interest to be here. He and others could have found themselves in a negative situation."


Find Zaz Hollander online at adn.com/contact/zhollander or call her in Wasilla at 907-352-6711. Reporter Rindi White contributed to this story.

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