Sexual harassment allegations factor in Johnstone board vote
Last-minute allegations of sexual harassment may have kept a former Superior Court Judge from returning to the Board of Fisheries.
On Wednesday night, lawmakers were getting close to a vote on Karl Johnstone’s nomination, but Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, changed the course of the debate. She said several women contacted her about sexual harassment. She said these were people who worked for the Board of Fish when Johnstone previously served from 2008-2015.
“They each described inappropriate sexual comments that were made by them that were both, as I said inappropriate and unwelcome, which created a hostile work environment for them repeatedly,” she told her colleagues during the joint session. “The women were not willing to testify on the record regarding the allegations because of the fear of retribution by Mr. Johnstone.”
Before Spohnholz could finish her discussion, Senate Rules Committee chair John Coghill called out the Anchorage Democrat for her comments.
“This is an accusation that has not been leveled in this building to my knowledge in any credible way, Coghill said. “It is impugning a character without any ability to respond to it or any information to substantiate it. I would ask that we not go down that road.”
Sen. Bill Wielechowski successfully got lawmakers to table the vote, but Sen. Tom Begich pushed for a vote that eventually rejected his nomination, 33-24.
Wielechowski said the allegations could have cost Johnstone a return to the board.
“I was planning on voting for him, then I changed my vote because I didn’t feel comfortable voting for someone and putting them back into a situation where they were going to be working with the accusers,” he said. “It made me very uncomfortable to do that and I had planned on supporting him, so I know it changed votes. I talked to other legislators and it changed their votes.”
Johnstone’s vote was already thought to be close as it followed some contentious hearings since he was appointed April 1.
Supporters, however, said his previous experience on the board would have served the state well. Additionally, they cited a legislative citation that said his work on the board “represents the gold-standard of public service.”
Johnstone could not be reached Thursday for comment for this story.
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