Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, has resigned six days after the Juneau Empire published details of an alleged assault by the first-term Alaska lawmaker against a Juneau woman.
His resignation was officially announced Friday morning in a regularly scheduled meeting of the House of Representatives. The letter did not include an effective date, so Fansler’s resignation will become effective Feb. 12, 10 days after it was filed.
“With great sadness I have decided to tender my resignation as the representative of District 38 in order to dedicate more time to personal matters,” the letter states. “My constituents need a representative who can devote her or his full attention towards advocating on matters of great import to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so at this time.”
In a speech on the House floor, Speaker of the House Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said Fansler’s staff will remain at their jobs to answer questions and help the residents of Fansler’s district.
In a statement sent by text message, the woman — whom the Empire is not naming — said she had mixed feelings.
“I’m glad this bit of uncertainty has been resolved but I was disappointed to read in his resignation letter that Zach is avoiding taking responsibility for his actions. Since his resignation is not effective until the 12th and he is still collecting per diem, I suggest that he donate the next 10 days’ per diem to the Tundra Women’s Coalition,” she wrote, referring to the Bethel women’s group where Fansler used to volunteer.
“Zach caused me a great deal of physical and emotional pain, but he also let down his constituents, and they deserve better,” she wrote. “While the last three weeks have been very difficult, it was a comfort to me to see that Speaker Edgmon and his colleagues took my report seriously and acted quickly.”
On Jan. 27, the Empire published the account of a Juneau woman who said she was assaulted by Rep. Fansler at his hotel room on Jan. 13. The woman said she was slapped multiple times by Fansler after a night of drinking, with enough force that one of her eardrums ruptured. She provided medical records and pictures to back up her account.
She also provided the Empire with copies of text messages that showed Fansler apologized to her and said he was sorry that he brought his “bdsm kink” out. The woman said that the topic of BDSM did come up briefly during their relationship, but that she never consented to that.
“I certainly at no point in that evening was asked for my consent or gave my consent,” she said.
The Juneau Police Department is investigating the case. No update from JPD was immediately available on Friday, but the woman told the Empire that she believes the investigator on the case will finish his report by early next week.
Fansler’s resignation will start the clock on a legally binding process to fill his seat in the Legislature. Gov. Bill Walker will have 30 days from Feb. 12 to name a replacement. In an effort to speed that process, the procedures of the Alaska Democratic Party call for district party officials to collect applications and winnow them to a list of finalists that will be forwarded to the governor.
The governor is not required to pick from that list of finalists, but because the governor’s pick must be confirmed by a vote of Democrats already in the House, picking from the list is generally seen as a way to ensure the pick will be accepted.
Fansler’s departure comes two days after Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue was sworn in to replace Dean Westlake, who resigned in December after allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. The gain of Lincoln and the loss of Fansler from the coalition majority in the House of Representatives leaves the majority with 21 members, the smallest possible majority in the 40-person House.
The House’s 18-member Republican minority praised Fansler’s decision to resign.
“There is absolutely no excuse for dating violence. It cannot be tolerated. Our members are proud of victims who have taken courageous steps to report such vile behavior. Our thoughts remain with all of those who have suffered dating violence and domestic violence,” the minority said in a prepared statement.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, has been among the most outspoken members of the House majority on the topic of sexual harassment and abuse in the Legislature.
Speaking to the Empire Friday afternoon, she said she was pleased to see it and thinks it sends a message that misbehavior by lawmakers will not be tolerated by their coworkers.
“What we know is that these kinds of situations have been taking place in Alaska for a very long time, and Alaska’s really no different from the rest of the United States in having to address these kinds of problems, but I’m really pleased to see that our coalition has been able to be so courageous in facing them head-on so hopefully we can turn the page on behavior that for far too long was tolerated,” she said.
She gave her thanks to the woman in the case as well.
“It’s hard to do that. She did it, and in doing so, she helped to address a problem, and I think we owe her a debt of gratitude,” Spohnholz said.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said shortly before Fansler’s resignation that the impending event had created a “sense of closure” for lawmakers in the majority.
“This has again been a difficult situation all the way around,” he said.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.