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Palin’s Wasilla: A small town with attitude

The vice presidential nominee’s hometown in Alaska takes pride in its independent ways.

By Yereth RosenCorrespondent / September 4, 2008

On the move: Vehicles on the Parks Highway through downtown Wasilla, Alaska on Wednesday. Vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was the town’s mayor 1996-2002.

Al Grillo/AP

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Wasilla, Alaska

Here in Wasilla, a town of strip-mall sprawl and eccentric backwoods dwellers, people still talk about the time in 2004 when an irate resident contacted Ben Stevens, state Senate president, to question his vague explanations for taking consulting fees from an oil field-services company.

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“Your [sic] just more valley trash,” the senator wrote back. The grammar was wrong, but the name stuck.

News accounts of the exchange swiftly spawned bumper stickers and T-shirts proclaiming: “Proud to Be Valley Trash.” Everyone now uses the phrase, even Sarah Palin, Wasilla’s suddenly famous resident and former mayor, to contrast this lake-dotted countryside with more-sophisticated Anchorage 45 miles away.

In a way, Wasilla and the entire Matanuska-Susitna Borough – generally called the Mat-Su Valley, or “Mad-Zoo,” by some wags – is having the last laugh. Mr. Stevens is now keeping a low profile; he and his father, US Sen. Ted Stevens, are among those embroiled in a federal corruption investigation allegedly involving, among other things, bribery and unreported gifts from the oil-services company VECO Corp. Meanwhile, Wasilla’s most powerful resident has leapt from the mayor’s office to the governor’s seat to the national stage as the new GOP nominee for vice president.

Most Mat-Su Valley residents are thrilled to see one of their own tapped for the White House. They say Governor Palin and her husband are regular folks who work with their hands, fish, hunt, and ride snowmobiles on trails that wind through the state’s commercial farms, verdant forests, jagged mountains, and high-altitude glaciers.

Raymie Redington, a local dog musher and part-time commercial fisherman, finds in the governor a kindred spirit who will be good in the White House. “We need somebody in there who’s been around and done something a little different, not sitting in an office,” says Mr. Redington, while taking a break Sunday from ferrying tourists riding dog-pulled carts at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race headquarters.

His wife, Barb, who keeps a photo of her granddaughter posing with the governor, regularly encounters Palin shopping alone at Wal-Mart – or has until now. “She’s one of those types that ain’t too good to talk to you,” she says.

Even the town’s name may favor Palin. The city is named after a revered Denaina Athabascan leader, Chief Wasilla, whose name translates into “breath of fresh air,” according to one account on the state’s webpage. Palin supporters touted her as a “breath of fresh air” in scandal-plagued Alaska when she ran for governor in 2006.

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