Ever since a mountain of allegations of sexual harassment emerged against Rep. Dean Westlake, House Republicans have seized at the opportunity to challenge the Democrat-led House majority’s handling of the incident and suggest conspiracy.
After releasing an investigation that confirms multiple accounts of Westlake’s behavior, legislative human resources manager Skiff Lobaugh told the House Rules Committee on Monday night that House leadership followed the appropriate legislative policy in handling a legislative aide’s complaints against Westlake.
During the short portion of the meeting that was public, Rep. Matt Claman zeroed in on questions surrounding House leadership’s handling of letter by a former legislative aide that detailed two cases of unwanted, inappropriate advances made by Westlake. The letter was sent to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Majority Leader Chris Tuck in March, but made public by the author in December after she heard that additional women had similar experiences. The publication encouraged a half-dozen other women to come forward with similar accusations in a report by the Anchorage Daily News, which prompted House majority leadership to call for Westlake’s resignation that day.
Since then, minority Republicans have been vocal in scrutinizing the House majority leadership’s response to the event, focusing on the gap between the March letter and December, when Westlake was finally forced to resign. The effort has been led by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, who’s called a third-party investigation and for the resignation of House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican who caucuses with the Democrats. Wilson’s accused LeDoux of personally ignoring the complaints for political purposes.
The testimony of Lobaugh seems to confirm otherwise.
Here’s the full interaction
Claman: Did you speak at all or interview Rep. LeDoux in the course of this investigation?
Lobaugh: No, I did not.
Claman: And why did you not interview Rep. LeDoux?
Lobaugh: She never came up as a witness or anything to do with the investigation.
Claman: In their actions did Rep. Edgmon and Rep. Tuck follow the Legislature’s sexual harassment policies and procedures in their actions in response to these events?
Lobaugh: They did follow the legislative council’s policy on sexual and other workplace harassment.
What’s happened since
Claman, Tuck and Wilson exchanged heated special orders during the House floor session on Monday. Claman outlined the findings of the report, focusing on pieces that cleared his colleagues of the alleged wrongdoing. Wilson said she wasn’t impressed by an in-house investigation and doubled down on her calls for a third-party investigation.
Tuck also sounded off, noting that the original letter he received asked for the incident to be handled privately. No formal investigation was ever requested by the victim, he said. (We’ve seen the letter, and this is accurate).
It doesn’t appear that this matter will be settled any time soon, and expect it to cast a shadow over the rest of the work this session.
Find a comprehensive summary of the floor battle in the legislative recap of the first day of the session (to be published Wednesday morning).
The report itself largely confirmed the two interactions detailed in the March letter were accurate, along with two other incidents with separate women in the Legislature. All four allegations that were investigated by Lobaugh were substantiated by witnesses, including in one case by an unnamed male legislator.
Lobaugh said he was only able to contact and speak with three accusers for his investigation, noting that the other women either didn’t contact him or refused to speak with him about their experiences.
What the report confirms without ambiguity is that Westlake displayed a pattern of unwanted advances toward women.
“From all the allegations I was able to gather, I saw a pattern of actions that may be pervasive and needed to be investigated,” Lobaugh explained in the report. Later adding, “The cumulative effect of Representative Westlake’s actions and comments created a hostile work environment. … This finding is further supported by the number of substantiated incidents.”
- Westlake’s actions and comments “have been shown to be pervasive.”
- Westlake’s two instances of touching or grabbing a staffer “together would be considered severe since they involve intentional unwanted touch.”
- Westlake’s “actions and comments created a hostile work environment.”