House Leadership weighs options after Westlake refuses to resign
Leadership in the Alaska house isn't taking any formal action after rural representative Dean Westlake (D-Kiana) announced Tuesday he will not be stepping down amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Both the House Speaker and the Alaska Democratic Party have called for his resignation.
"Any further actions will be first a caucus decision," House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage), said Wednesday. "The only people that have power over a legislator is through the election process, recall efforts, or his colleagues, the legislature itself."
Tuck says the only way to force the situation would be through the next election, a recall effort or a vote of both legislative bodies.
According to Tuck, the legislature's HR department is in the process of investigating alleged misconduct by Rep. Westlake toward former legislative aide Olivia Garrett.
"I know there's going to be a lot of members-- I imagine they're going to want to wait until after the investigation to get the facts, to know what the appropriate action would be," Tuck added.
In March, Garrett addressed a letter to Tuck and House Speaker, Bryce Edgmon, outlining two occasions in which Westlake made unwelcome advances toward her.
On one occasion, she says Westlake grabbed her butt, which was witnessed by another staffer.
"After I received the letter, I met with Representative Edgmon, and then Representative Edgmon spoke directly with Dean," Tuck said.
"We are not going to do anything more than a staffer wants to do because of the sensitive nature, and we don’t want to affect things down the road for them. At that time, she did not want to have an investigation. We don’t have to wait for someone to ask for an investigation to do an investigation and I think now that she has come out publicly on these things, it was obvious that she would like to have an investigation. So that’s what we did, we’ve asked for an investigation," the Majority Leader said.
But Garrett says neither Edgmon nor Tuck ever followed-up with her.
"Westlake continued to harass people, and I think it was four other women that described incidents that happened after mid-March when I gave that letter to Representative Tuck," Garrett said. "So, clearly nothing was actually done about it, the behavior continued."
Tuck says there isn't anything in current policy that required him to give Garrett an update on her complaint, but in hindsight, he says he should have done so automatically.
"I think there's broad agreement that we need to strengthen our policies, we need to support the working group that the legislature has already put in place," Edgmon told the crowd at a Commonwealth North luncheon Wednesday afternoon.
The legislature has created a six-member working group to address its policy on harassment.
RELATED: Allegations against state senator prompt harassment working group
"I know that it's a pretty old policy, and I also am aware of the fact that people didn't even know the policy existed," said Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), a member of the working group. "So, it's time, and we're addressing it, and we're addressing it thoroughly, and completely."
Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) declined to speak with KTVA about his goals for the working group on harassment policy Wednesday.
The new policy will apply to lawmakers moving forward, but the question remains of what to do about the allegations against Westlake now.
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