Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, is refusing to resign after a newspaper report made public an police investigation into the legislator for allegedly assaulting a woman–and rupturing her eardrum–during a drunken attack in a hotel room.
The Juneau Empire published the story on Saturday afternoon, detailing the alleged assault, moments after the House Speaker Bryce Edgmon released a statement publicly calling for Fansler’s resignation. The charges have yet to be filed.
Edgmon called the yet-to-be-disclosed accusations “credible” in his statement.
“I have requested his resignation,” Edgmon said. “Zach Fansler is someone I and many others respected and trusted, and who worked hard for his district. His behavior is a betrayal of trust which has created feelings of shock and deep sadness among everyone I have spoken to.”
Fansler, speaking through his attorney to KYUK, said he won’t resign and denied the allegations (The Empire’s reporting includes an account of text exchanges where Fansler apologizes to the woman the day following the alleged assault).
“We deny the allegations. They’re not true,” Fansler’s attorney, Wallace Tetlow of Anchorage told KYUK. “And if charges are filed, we’ll deal with those successfully in court.”
Why it matters
If Fansler believes his actions aren’t disqualifying, the Alaska Constitution will allow his colleagues to decide for him (and has already done so to a degree by transferring his entire staff to the House Rules Committee).
A legislator can be removed from office with a special resolution, which must be heard in the House Rules Committee and a two-thirds vote of that member’s chamber. In the House’s case that’s 27 members (and 14 votes in the Senate).
Such an action has never been taken against a legislator for sexual assault or harassment (the only legislator to be expelled was Bethel Sen. George Hohman in 1982 for a felony conviction for trying to bribe another legislator), but the expectations for legislators have also changed.
As we’ve seen this year, serving in the Alaska Legislature is not purely a matter of being free of criminal wrongdoing. It’s a matter of representing the public, your community and the state of Alaska, a position that requires trust and dignity. Rep. Dean Westlake resigned amid accusations of workplace sexual harassment, having never stepped foot in a courtroom, because he rightly believed he could no longer serve his constituents.