'Sarah Palin Is Wasilla': Town Stands Behind VP Pick

Residents of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, are suddenly in the national spotlight.

Sept. 6, 2008— -- Nate Burris of Wasilla, Alaska, says he's like every other butcher in America.

Except instead of chopping chicken, he's mincing moose.

"I hope we're the go-to place to bring your game," said Burris, whose shop took in 100,000 pounds of moose meat last year.

One week ago, virtually no one had heard of Wasilla. It's one of the country's most distant outposts, nestled in snowcapped mountains -- as close to Beijing as it is to Washington, D.C.

Things have changed since the announcement that Wasilla's hometown hero, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would be Republican presidential nominee John McCain's pick as running mate. This sleepy town, which is dark nearly half the year, is now ablaze with media lights.

Residents like Sharon Lea Kilbourne say it's a little surreal. "It seems odd," she said. "We're a pretty quiet town. We're not used to that." By our calculations, there is one national media person here for every 130 Wasillians. But the press hasn't all been positive.

Democratic strategist James Carville said of Wasilla on national television that "the city all looks like a bait shop in Louisiana."

Wasilla residents and Mayor Diane Keller takes exception to that kind of characterization. "It's not a bait shop," she said. "It's where we do our business."

Keller holds the same office Sarah Palin did for six years. She calls herself the CEO of the city, with a staff of 120 and a $30 million budget.

Keller says she believes being the mayor of Wasilla equips her with the tools to become vice president of the United States.

One example: managing the budget. Keller says she's toeing the fiscal line. "We have told reporters that we are not returning long-distance phone calls because my phone budget will be gone by next week."

Keller says there's much economic development in Wasilla and cites major box stores like Home Depot, Lowe's and Target. She boasts that they have the only Super Wal-Mart in the entire state.

Keller gave "Nightline" a tour of the town's $14 million multi-use athletic facility. It's a facility that Palin pushed for the community to build.

For much of America, the perception of Wasilla is that it's unlike anywhere in the country. Keller says that's just not true. "We're just like anybody else in America. This is home. This is who we are."

As we toured the athletic facility, Keller explained that it was built for multiple purposes. "We have church services in the community rooms and we had a wedding last Friday and we've got hockey in the rink. You've got people beating each other up and you've got people on the other end of the building praying for them."

Weekends in Wasilla are all hunting and hockey. Everything's kept on ice and trophies are hung on walls, not displayed on shelves. And "taking off for work" has a whole different meaning. Many Alaskans travel by plane, given the tough roads and long distances between some cities.

Wasilla resident Mark Finstrom flies himself around Alaska. "There's a lot of people who fly around here based on their remote locations. Flying's pretty normal for people around here."

While townspeople admit life's a little different here than in the lower 48 … they say they're not that different.

And they point to a woman who used everything she learned in Wasilla to get all the way to the national stage.

Keller says that's what the town is all about. "I think Sarah Palin is Wasilla. We were a small town. We put in, invested in ourselves; we are now the economic envy of the other communities in the state of Alaska. And I think Sarah Palin invested in herself. She's a woman with grit. She's an Alaskan and she will do well."

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