Westlake should resign

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)

“Sweetheart.” “Honey.” “Baby.” How are we supposed to get any work done when you’re “dressed like that?”

 

We’re disgusted by the actions of state Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, who apparently has been sexually harassing female staffers and aides in the state Capitol.

Seven women — six anonymous and one named — stepped forward this week and told the Anchorage Daily News that Westlake had subjected them to unwanted sexual advances and touching during legislative sessions in Juneau.

In one case, Westlake put his hand on a woman’s thigh, which the woman quickly brushed away. He gave “lingering” hugs to another woman, enough to prompt her to tell him she felt uncomfortable. He made comments on how the staffers dress and their physical appearance, and even passed a note to a fellow legislator in a meeting, saying the legislator should tell his staffer how good she looked in a dress. In another instance, standing on the street with another legislator, he asked a passing staffer in a skirt how legislators were supposed to get any work done when staff members were dressed “like that.”

Then, one night at a charity fundraising event, in a crowded dark room, he grabbed staffer Olivia Garrett’s buttocks. She lodged a complaint with the Alaska House Majority Coalition leader.

For years, women around the world have felt that this kind of behavior from men in power was something they had to put up with in order to keep their jobs.

No more. Enough. This has got to stop.

This type of gross sexist talk and demeaning behavior has no place in any workplace, much less the halls of the Alaska State Capitol, where our elected leaders are expected to represent us.

And the lip service from legislators? Enough of that too.

Those who work at the Capitol need to take a hard a look in the mirror and ask themselves: Why wasn’t anything done with Olivia Garrett’s complaint?

Garrett filed a complaint, detailing what happened, but no one took it seriously. No one took action. No one called for action. No one called for discipline. The letter wasn’t even taken to HR. She ultimately got so fed up of waiting, she released the letter herself on the internet, where it got the attention of a few bloggers, then a TV station, then the Anchorage Daily News and the rest of the state’s media.

It’s disturbing that her complaint died with one person and was ignored for months. What other complaints are “pending?” Why was there not something in place to funnel this complaint to HR? Follow up should have been obvious and mandatory.

Garrett also told the press that after Westlake grabbed her, she wasn’t sure where and how she should report it.

When there’s a fire, a car crash or a heart attack, people know to call 911. Sexual harassment is a little different. If it’s not at the emergency level, or it’s unclear if a crime has been committed, people often aren’t sure where to turn.

Many businesses are required to hang up signs in places like a lunch room, telling employees what phone number to call to report harassment. This is standard. Why is this not in place at the Capitol?

And even if that is in place, the legislators at the Capitol need to seriously ask themselves: Why did the other six women who were harassed not feel comfortable speaking out about Westlake? Why did it take Westlake harassing at least seven people before something was done? Why was it ignored for so long?

This isn’t a case of “he said, she said.” It’s a case of “he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said.”

In the meantime, we agree with some legislators who are now calling for Westlake’s resignation. His apology is not enough. He needs to resign.

Westlake, we have a question: How are we supposed to get any work done when you’re sexually harrassing us?

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