House leaders ask Rep. Westlake to resign amid complaints

In this Jan. 17, 2017 photo, state Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, talks with another legislator during a break in the opening session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau, Alaska. An Alaska state representative accused of inappropriate behavior by a former legislative aide says he apologizes if an encounter with him “made anyone uncomfortable.” Westlake released the statement after allegations against him were made public by the aide, Olivia Garrett, who did not work in Westlake’s office. (Mark Thiessen | The Associated Press File)

Leaders of the coalition in charge of the Alaska House called on one of their members — Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake — to resign Friday amid allegations of inappropriate behavior.

 

The chairwoman of the state Democratic party, Casey Steinau, also said Westlake should immediately step down.

Messages left at Westlake’s office and with an aide were not immediately returned.

On Thursday, Westlake said he apologized if an encounter with him had “made anyone uncomfortable.”

His statement came after a former legislative aide, Olivia Garrett, made public her complaints of inappropriate behavior by Westlake.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Friday that six other female aides said Westlake acted inappropriately toward them or made them feel uncomfortable. The paper said those women asked to not be identified.

Garrett, who did not work in Westlake’s office, said Friday that she recently filed a human resources complaint against Westlake and that it was being investigated.

The formal complaint came after Garrett complained about Westlake in a letter last March addressed to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck.

Garrett, who responded to questions from The Associated Press by email on Thursday, said no one followed up with her after the letter was submitted and she feared she would be retaliated against if she was perceived as pushing the issue.

“The capitol isn’t a workplace where staff are encouraged to stick up for themselves,” she said.

She provided The Associated Press with a copy of a letter addressed to Edgmon and Tuck, in which she detailed two instances of “unwelcome physical contact” from Westlake at work-related functions outside the Capitol, including one incident in which she says he grabbed her buttocks.

She told the AP that she came forward, in part, because “institutions like the Alaska Legislature don’t change without public pressure.”

She said Tuck gave her specific instructions for language in the letter, including a sentence in which she asked that the matter be shared with Westlake privately.

Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, declined comment on the matter, saying it’s a personnel issue.

In an interview earlier this week, Edgmon, a Democrat, said he became aware of the complaint in March and spoke with Westlake, a first-term lawmaker from Kotzebue.

The Legislature recently formed a subcommittee to recommend updates to harassment policies. Current legislative policy enacted in 2000 “leaves room for interpretation” and needs updating, Edgmon said.

Under that policy, there have been 22 investigations. Eleven involved alleged sexual harassment, two were for other forms of alleged workplace harassment and nine were for other alleged workplace violations, said Skiff Lobaugh, human resources manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Lobaugh could not provide details on the disposition of those cases, citing policy.

Edgmon had said that if there have been substantiated claims of harassment against any legislator, that person should face consequences.

“When I say substantiated, I think it has to go through a full investigation process,” he said.

The House leadership, in a statement released by Edgmon, said the decision to call for Westlake’s resignation was difficult but necessary.

“We take very seriously our obligation to ensure everyone who works in the Capitol feels safe and respected,” the statement says.

Steinau, the chair of the state Democratic party, said there is “no place where sexual misconduct, harassment or assault is acceptable. Elected officials, regardless of party, must be held accountable.”

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