Accused of sexual harassment, Rep. Dean Westlake refuses to resign

Rep. Dean Westlake will not resign.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Democrat from the Northwest Arctic Borough said that despite seven accusations of sexual harassment by women in the Alaska Legislature, he will seek to stay in office.

“Many people in the past few days have called for me to resign. I have thought seriously about it, and I have asked for counsel from friends, family, native leaders, Elders, and God. I have decided not to,” Westlake said in a prepared statement.

Westlake underwent heart surgery last week Outside and had been expected to hold a press conference or make an announcement Monday. In a brief conversation with the Empire on Saturday, Westlake said the surgery involved “cracking” his chest. With a rueful laugh, he said he was advised to refrain from interviews while taking pain medication.

Westlake has been accused of sexual harassment by a former Legislative aide, Olivia Garrett. In a complaint letter filed with the House Majority Leader, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, in March, Garrett said Westlake made lewd comments and inappropriately touched her. It is not clear whether the Majority Leader acted on Garrett’s complaint, and Garrett told the Empire that no one followed up with her afterward, and that she feared retaliation if she pursued the issue.

Garrett went public with her complaint this fall, and the Anchorage Daily News last week published a story that said six other women in the Capitol had experiences similar to Garrett’s. Those women asked to remain anonymous, the ADN said.

Following the ADN story, the leaders of the House’s majority coalition — of which Westlake is a member — called for him to resign. So did the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, Casey Steinau. The Empire’s editorial board has also called for Westlake’s resignation.

Legislators and members of the Legislative Affairs Agency, the nonpartisan branch believed to be investigating the allegations, are forbidden by legislative rules from revealing much about the matter. Under those rules, personnel matters are kept confidential.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau and chairman of the Legislative Council — a body that sets the rules for legislators — told the Empire by text message that “Representative Westlake does have a right to some type of due process regarding the accusations against him, but if he has behaved inappropriately, he should be held accountable.”

Asked what kind of due process would be appropriate, Kito said “the opportunity for an investigation” would be appropriate.

The Empire then asked Kito what Westlake should do, given what’s known.

“I can’t comment on that,” Kito responded. “All I know about the situation is what I’ve read in the news.”

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, is one of Westlake’s fellow legislators and has been among the most outspoken legislators on issues of sexual harassment. On Twitter, she wrote: “I think we all know what needs to happen here. Rep. Westlake needs to resign his position immediately. This sort is behavior is unacceptable of anyone — but even more so from a leader. We should expect the highest standard of behavior from our leaders.”

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Rep Westlake Statement 12 12 17 (PDF)

Rep Westlake Statement 12 12 17 (Text)


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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