Days after vowing to stay in office amid accusations of sexually harassing Capitol staffers, Rep. Dean Westlake says he will resign.
In a statement sent to Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, on Friday, Westlake wrote: “Over the past few days, I have heard from colleagues, constituents, and friends who have continued to advise me on how to address recent events and the allegations against me. I have spent time deliberating on their guidance, and it is with a heavy heart that I respond now and announce that I will be resigning as a member of the Alaska State Legislature.”
According to state law, a resignation is effective on the date specified in the resignation letter or 10 days after a resignation letter is sent.
The Democrat from Kiana was elected in 2016, unseating longtime Utqiaġvik Democrat Benjamin Nageak in a closely fought race to represent House District 40 in the Alaska House of Representatives. The race required several recounts and the intervention of the courts before Westlake was declared the winner.
In March 2017, three months after taking office, House staffer Olivia Garrett filed a formal complaint against Westlake, alleging sexual harassment. Garrett filed the complaint with the office of House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, but Garrett said she never heard any response from the speaker’s office or anyone else.
In the fall, after months of inaction and after she left work in the Capitol, Garrett went public with her story. She shared it at Democratic Party meetings, then with the state’s newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.
Garrett told the Empire that she felt she was burning her bridges at the Capitol, but that it was important to share.
Subsequently, the Anchorage Daily News found six other women who anonymously shared their own stories of harassment at the hands of Westlake. KTUU-TV published other stories from women who said they were harassed by Westlake before he was elected to office.
The House’s coalition majority caucus, of which Westlake was a member, called for him to resign. So did the chairwoman of the state’s Democratic party. Westlake initially resisted those calls, but after a workweek of reconsideration, reversed himself.
After Westlake’s announcement, Garrett told the Empire, “I know this isn’t something worth celebrating, but I’m thrilled that behavior like this won’t be tolerated.”
Under the state’s procedures for filling a legislative vacancy, District 40 Democrats will nominate a candidate to replace Westlake, and the governor will confirm him. Traditionally, districts nominate three candidates, allowing the governor to select one and generally speeding the process called for by the state constitution. The governor has 30 days to appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy. That person must then be confirmed by his or her fellow Democratic legislators.
Walker previously appointed Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, who filled the seat vacated by the death of Max Gruenberg in 2016. Three years ago, Rep. Beth Kerttula resigned as the representative for downtown Juneau. Governor Sean Parnell appointed Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau.
The Legislature convenes Jan. 16.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.