As allegations pile up on Rep. Westlake, here’s how the Legislature could kick a member out

Rep. Dean Westlake.

The sexual misconduct allegations facing Rep. Dean Westlake only continued to grow on Wednesday night, when KTUU published details of additional unwanted and inappropriate advances made by the Kiana Democrat before becoming a legislator that not previously reported.

The incidents in question include allegations from a woman who said Westlake made her uncomfortable during an event at the Dena’ina convention center where, as KTUU describes it, “Westlake hugged her and commented that he could tell her bra size from the hug, she said. As she walked away, she said he texted her to ‘lift up your parka.'”

Westlake said he had no memory of the incident during an interview with the station, providing the explanation: “If I said anything untoward or anything like that, it’s me trying a sense of humor that I thought was OK. And it isn’t OK. Not by any stretch of the imagination are actions like that OK. They are reprehensible. There are things that I think are humor where the other person doesn’t think that.”

Another allegation published in the KTUU story was that Westlake was temporarily banned from volunteering at the KOTZ radio station after the station manager received a complaint from a young woman. Westlake also said he’s been investigated by a former employer for sexual harassment, but didn’t name the employer.

Taken together, the growing pile of credible allegations will make it almost impossible for the Legislature to not take some sort of action against Westlake.

What’s happening now

The House leadership has requested an investigation into Westlake’s behavior, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck told KTVA. A similar investigation into a single on-camera altercation between Sen. David Wilson and a female legislative aide cleared Wilson of sexual harassment claims, but found that his behavior put the staffer in a difficult, uncomfortable position. (The report also became public on the same day that Westlake announced that he would not resign his position).

“Any further actions will be first a caucus decision,” Tuck told KTVA. “The only people that have power over a legislator is through the election process, recall efforts, or his colleagues, the legislature itself. … 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.”

Expulsion or censure

After Westlake ignored calls to resign, the Legislature is left with a handful of options to address Westlake’s behavior, including a censure, stripping committee assignments and even expulsion. Any decision, as Tuck said, will likely wait until the investigation is resolved.

Expulsion from the Legislature is a tremendously drastic move that’s only been undertaken once before. The Senate expelled Bethel Sen. George Hohman in 1982 after he was convicted of trying to bribe another legislator. Hohman served three years in prison for the conviction. The process for this is outlined in both the Alaska Constitution and the Legislature’s uniform rules. Expelling a member requires a two-thirds vote of that member’s chamber. In the House’s case that’s 27 members (and 14 votes in the Senate).

It’s unlikely that the Legislature would go to such extreme measures against Westlake, seeing as how the only prior expulsion was based on a felony conviction.

Instead, the 1994 case of Sen. George Jacko is likely more applicable.

That case stemmed from an incident at a motel where Jacko attempted to gain access to the room of a female legislative aide using his credentials as a legislator. The incident rattled free additional allegations of sexual misconduct with other women, and the Legislature became a target for many protests. Ultimately, the Senate responded by unanimously adopting an ethics committee’s recommendations that Jacko be stripped of his committee assignments, banned from travelling out-of-state at state expense, required to complete at his own expense an anger management course and was formally censured and placed on probation.

Taking lessons and direction from events more than two decades in the past is obviously not the only thing that should be considered here. The 1994 Senate merely censured Jacko for behavior that appears to have been much more serious than any of the current allegations against Westlake, but there’s also a good argument that the punishment would be far too soft by today’s standards.

The Legislature faces tough decisions ahead, but it’s critical its members find the courage to act responsibility to ensure this bad behavior is met with reasonable consequences. And that’s not just limited to Westlake, but any legislator who’s made the capitol a dangerous or threatening workplace for any of the many people who are there to serve the state.

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