Allegations that Rep. Zach Fansler beat a woman badly enough to rupture her eardrum hung over the capital on Monday. While there were a handful of meetings held on the 14th day of the 2018 session, it didn’t feel like much was happening while legislators and staff wondered about the fate of the Bethel Democrat.
Just 76 days to go.
Facing calls from House Speaker Bryce Edgmon to resign for his alleged action (which Edgmon called “credible” in a statement over the weekend), Fansler was a no-show on Monday. He didn’t attend a House Judiciary Committee or two House subfinance committees that he’s on, and the House held a short in-and-out floor session (which is pretty unusual this early into the year). Reporters in the building found Fansler’s office door “firmly locked” and confirmed that he has officially been stripped of his staff.
The Bethel-based KYUK radio station has been following this story as closely as anyone, and in Monday’s reporting recalled that Fansler’s alcohol use was a question during his 2016 campaign.
“We’ve received some concerns from community members on your relationship with alcohol,” said Wagner. “How would you like to respond to those concerns?”
“I think that there’s always a lot that people struggle with when it comes to the alcohol issue in this town,” said Fansler. “And I think it’s something that I think is very important that we work as a community towards it.”
“I just want to make sure,” said Wagner. “These community concerns were not about your alcohol policy so much as your personal alcohol use. And they were questions regarding that. Can you respond to that?”
“I certainly drink alcohol, yes,” said Fansler. “That’s true. I don’t think I’ve ever denied that. So.”
The Tundra Women’s Coalition, a group that Fansler helped prior to his election, released a statement saying “terribly disappointed to hear these allegations” and that “We hope that Rep. Fansler, who has worked for and supported our programs and has been a role model for many, finds his ‘place of turning around.”
There’s a lot of rumors about next steps for the House. Legislators could decide to expel Fansler through a special resolution, or settle for censure and other sanctions while the police investigation works its way through.
‘There was retaliation’
The Senate leadership has admitted that Sen. David Wilson was found to have committed retaliation for going after the people who reported an alleged incident workplace harassment. Wilson was found to have not violated the law while confronting a legislative aide, but was found to have created an “stressful no-win predicament” for the staffer. The Senate has scheduled a Senate Rules Committee meeting for Wednesday to release the report.
When asked if there would be ramifications for the report, Kelly said, “Yes, we’ll discuss all that at that time.”
Kelly, unprompted, went on to say that Wilson’s situation is “very different” than that of former Rep. Dean Westlake.
Alaska Marine Highway
Representatives from the Alaska Marine Highway made their case to the Senate Finance Committee and House Finance Committee on Monday, but didn’t get a particularly good response from the Senate. Faced with years of cuts that have most recently been capped with short funding, Alaska the Marine Highway is asking for “stable funding” (meaning no growth, cuts or short funding). The request was met with what we assume will be the Senate Finance Committee’s standard line for the upcoming session: that things are tough, that Alaska’s at a crossroads, that traditionally offered services need to be reconsidered, that the state needs to weigh wants vs. needs, that belts need to be tightened and that things need to be right-sized. The specter of privatization of state assets was also raised at the meeting, though it seemed to be a more practical discussion when framed against a single state agency. There was also quite a bit of focus spent on the ferry system’s subsidization of freight cargo.
Still, moderate Republican Sen. Gary Stevens’ addition to the committee continues to make these meetings interesting. At this meeting, he reminded the committee that the value of the Alaska Marine Highway system extends well past the communities directly served by the ferries and that quite a bit of the shipments that the ferries deliver originate from Anchorage.
“I just want to make sure that we’re not just talking about coastal Alaska. This is infrastructure that benefits all of Alaska,” he said.
While it still seems like most people are going through the motions, the House appears to be getting ratcheted up to full speed on the budget this week and is starting its two-a-day House Finance Committee meeting schedule that’s usually reserved for later in the session. This schedule is typically reserved for when the committee is handling both the budget and the end-of-session glut of bills. This morning, it’ll be taking up its early funding for education bill House Bill 287.
What we’re reading
The Kodiak City Council has voted to ban plastic bags in its community, joining Wasilla (of all places) in instituting blanket ban on disposable plastic shopping bags. Read: Kodiak bans plastic bags via Kodiak Daily Mirror.
The Senate voted 18-0 to approve the Alaska Decoration of Honor for three soldiers with ties to Alaska who were killed in 2017. The Juneau Empire reports that the three are Jacob Sims, formerly of Skagway, and Hansen Kirkpatrick and David Brabander. Read: Senate votes to award medals to three slain Alaska soldiers via Juneau Empire.