North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson has a personal reason to be skeptical of the Legislature’s handling of the harassment and sexual harassment: When she brought forward a complaint about harassment at the hands of another legislator in 2016, she says she was told to “just avoid him.”
Wilson, R-North Pole, turned heads last week when she issued an incendiary news release calling for the resignation of House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux and a third-party investigation into the House’s handling of recent sexual harassment accusations. She said she doubted the Legislature was taking things seriously, but drew criticism for playing politics over the newly mandatory harassment training instituted by the Legislature.
In an email exchange between Wilson and LeDoux last year obtained by the Alaska Landmine, Wilson said explained her concern with the Legislature’s handling of harassment by noting that she had been a victim of it herself. The Landmine reached out to Wilson to get her side of the story, making public a startling case of harassment at the hands of another legislator. The Midnight Sun has also interviewed Wilson since the story broke, confirming the account and revealing additional details.
Wilson’s experiences stem from profanity-filled altercations with former legislator Bill Stoltze during his time as a representative—when he was the co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee, where Wilson had a seat—and as a senator. The two incidents were detailed by the Alaska Landmine, but have long been talked about in legislative circles as has the Chugiak legislator’s notoriously short temper.
The first altercation occurred in 2012, during a heated dispute over Wilson’s bill involving a transfer of railroad land. The Landmine’s description of the event is: “Stoltze was apparently very unhappy with the bill. Wilson said he stormed into a meeting yelling about the bill and calling her very inappropriate names. He left very angry, punched out a window in the men’s bathroom, and then tore up his office. Multiple sources confirmed that he did in fact punch out the window.”
In an interview with The Midnight Sun, Wilson said she was stunned and felt helpless after the event because the general attitude was that Wilson—not Stoltze—was responsible for Stoltze’s behavior.
“The first time I wasn’t as brave as I was now because it all seemed like it was OK,” she said. “My staff and I, we stayed in the office until it blew over. It felt like we were being held responsible and that I did something wrong. But I wasn’t the one yelling and punching things.”
In 2016, Wilson said Stoltze—as a senator—once again confronted her over spending that she removed from the budget. This time it was in the cramped quarters of the Bill Ray Center, where legislators were working due to capitol renovations. Stoltze entered her office, which she shared with Rep. Lynn Gattis, to berate her over the budget changes. According to the Landmine, several sources reported Stoltze used particularly profane language during the encounter.
Wilson said she and Gattis brought the incident forward to former Senate Rules Chair Charlie Huggins, but were told to “Just avoid him.”
“Over 25 people witnessed it,” Wilson recalled of the 2016 incident. “And we were told to stay away. I was appalled, but what do you do? Luckily (Stoltze) didn’t sit on Senate Finance so we didn’t have to interact.”
The involvement of Gattis and Huggins were not confirmed by Wilson in the initial reporting of the event, but she told The Midnight Sun that the Landmine’s speculation that Gattis and Huggins were involved was accurate.
Why it matters
Wilson’s decision to come forward with her story comes at a time when the Legislature is grappling with how it has handled and will handle harassment and sexual harassment in the halls of the capitol. Her story, along with those of others illustrate that both harassment and sexual harassment have long been a reality for women working in the capital, regardless of whether they’re legislative aides or legislators. Those cases, she said, have long been overlooked, leaving victims in a place where they might risk their career if they bring a complaint forward.
“People knew about it at the time, but no one did anything about it,” she said. “Things happen in Juneau that shouldn’t.”
Wilson said she’s been in part motivated by the actions of former legislative aide Olivia Garrett, who went public with allegations that Rep. Dean Westlake made inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances toward her. Garrett’s account was the first in what became an avalanche of complaints against Westlake that ended with his resignation from the Legislature.
Wilson is still unhappy with the House’s handling of the case, and is still calling for a third-party investigation of just what happened between March, when Garrett filed an informal complaint with House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, and now.
Wilson said since the allegations broke, she’s received positive support from close friends, but recognized that it will likely put her in an uncomfortable position with others.
“I won’t make a lot of friends, but how long can you stay quiet and expect things to change?” Wilson said.
The case also involves politicians who are currently considering 2018 campaigns (Huggins is running for governor and Gattis is running for lieutenant governor). Campaigns and voters are set to take this kind of behavior more seriously than ever before.