JUNEAU, Alaska — Two first-term Alaska lawmakers are facing questions about their behavior in separate incidents that have diverted the Legislature’s attention during the current session.
In one, Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler of Bethel faces pressure to resign for what House Speaker Bryce Edgmon called “a betrayal of trust.” In the other, the Senate plans to consider releasing a report on allegations of retaliation by Republican Sen. David Wilson of Wasilla.
The Juneau Empire reported Saturday that a woman accused Fansler of hitting her during a night of drinking earlier this month, shortly before the session started. Fansler’s attorney, Wally Tetlow, told The Associated Press Saturday his client denied allegations he beat the woman and had no immediate plans to resign.
A message left for Tetlow was not immediately returned Monday. The door to Fansler’s Capitol office was locked Monday morning. House Majority press secretary Mike Mason said Fansler’s staff had been reassigned to the House Rules chair’s office.
Fansler did not attend committee hearings Monday and did not attend the House floor session, for which attendance was not mandatory.
When asked about any investigations underway, Juneau police and the state Department of Law declined comment.
Fansler and former state Rep. Dean Westlake were elected to the House in 2016 after defeating the Democratic incumbents in their respective districts who had caucused with Republicans. Democrats took control of the 40-member House from the GOP, cobbling together a fragile, 22-member majority that includes three Republicans and two independents.
Westlake resigned from his seat last month after being accused by female aides of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. He has since been replaced by Democrat John Lincoln of Kotzebue, who is expected to start work this week.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pete Kelly said the Senate would release a report on retaliation allegations involving Wilson.
Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, recently told reporters that while Wilson was cleared of sexual harassment allegations, “there was a retaliation.”
“And the retaliation that he was engaged in was because he didn’t successfully navigate the very complex rules in place from the EEOC and he violated that,” Kelly said. EEOC is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Kelly said Monday there was an official finding and the Senate plans to release the report, but he wouldn’t elaborate. The Senate Rules Committee scheduled a meeting for Wednesday.
A message left with Wilson’s office seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, speaking recently with reporters, said Wilson and his family “paid the price” of sexual harassment when such harassment did not occur.
“So there’s not a rulebook for how folks sort of respond to that kind of thing,” Micciche said. Going forward, having adequate training and procedures in place to ensure the Capitol is a safe, respectful workplace is important, he said.
The Legislature’s human resources officer last year found Wilson didn’t violate policies against harassment when he placed a cellphone near the hemline of the skirt of a female House staffer trying to keep Wilson from listening outside a closed-door meeting.
The report was released at Wilson’s request. However, he also asked the video be released, which the Legislature has not made available.