Rumors have been swirling for weeks that Alaska’s Attorney General Kevin Clarkson had been on unpaid leave for the month of August and today we got a clear look at why.
According to a bombshell report by the Anchorage Daily News, Clarkson had been caught sending hundreds of inappropriate text messages, lousy with kissy face emojis and late-night invitations to his home, to a younger female state employee over a 27-day span in March. In all, Clarkson sent 558 text messages to the woman.
The state denied any record of such an exchange in response to a records request made by the Anchorage Daily News in June, but that apparently launched a quiet and internal look at Clarkson’s behavior. Clarkson was placed on unpaid administrative leave at the start of August—without giving notice or reason to the public or many Department of Law employees—and was expected to resume work next week for Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
He issued his resignation today, only after the exchange became public.
Must Read Alaska, the unofficial spokesblog of Dunleavy and the Alaska Republican Party, attempted to give cover for Clarkson in a post Monday night as the ADN prepared to publish its story. The blog, which has stooped to plenty of lows, described the exchange as “friendly and warm in nature” filled with “emojis and affectionate terms” but claims there was “nothing salacious.”
The Anchorage Daily News interviewed several human resources experts who pointed out that behind the seeming “friendly and warm” exchanges that frequently commented on the woman’s appearance there’s an imbalanced power structure that gave Clarkson—who was not her direct supervisor—leverage over the woman.
“I would argue that he definitely crossed professional and ethical boundaries,” Sharmili Majmudar, executive vice president of policy and organizational impact for the Chicago-based nonprofit Women Employed, told the paper after reviewing the exchange. “(The woman) appears to be trying to navigate a tightrope between being friendly and responsive but not engaging in more intimate overtures with someone in a significantly more powerful position than herself.”
The ADN reports that the woman is not represented by a union and therefore could be fired at any time for any reason. Clarkson also makes significantly more money than the woman.
In an “apology” and resignation letter published by the blog, Clarkson generally denied any wrongdoing in the exchange and wanders into the territory of blaming the woman for the nature of the exchanges and “political opposition” for digging into his behavior.
“All of these texts were ‘G’ rated. In our texts we exchanged mutual endearments in words and emojis. On several occasions, this person initiated a friendly hug when I came to her work place, and I reflexively gave her a peck on top of her head,” he wrote. “When this person eventually expressed her discomfort to me, I immediately respected her wishes and ceased communicating with her by text. Two months passed uneventfully. But thereafter, after a representative of political opposition had learned of the texts and contacted your office, she appropriately reported this situation to her supervisor. I immediately and fully cooperated in the ensuing process, and have accepted the finding by Human Resources that my actions, however unintentionally, created an uncomfortable workplace environment for this employee. As you know, I have accepted and am completing a period of unpaid leave as a consequence for my error in judgment, which I recognize was wholly and only mine.”
Reading through the exchanges published by the Anchorage Daily News, they certainly don’t read quite as “friendly and warm” as the Republican mouthpiece would suggest but err more into the pathetic, pleading territory that most women have likely experienced at some point or another. What separates this case from the unfortunate advances of young, self-assured men who can’t take a hint is this is coming from an official in an administration that has not been shy about firing people who don’t agree with them.
The degree of obliviousness, god
Men havegot to learn what a soft no looks like by text.* With every “haha” it just kills me that we have to say this kind of thing back to harrassers, even when what we mean is “fuck off and never contact me again”
*and in all other contexts
— Marian Call & the Guttersnipes (@mariancall) August 25, 2020
Why it matters
Clarkson has been one of Alaska’s most ardent conservative lawyers. Prior to joining the administration, he made a name for litigating (and frequently losing) anti-abortion cases, anti-LGBT cases and cases that were ultimately found to infringe on non-Christian faiths.
As attorney general, he injected a streak of conservative partisan politics into the Department of Law and was frequently on the losing end of litigation including, but not limited to: An attempt to reject the recall effort targeting the governor, an effort to reject an election reform initiative and an effort to bust unions with a “novel” reading of Janus v. AFSCME (that he had hoped to take to the U.S. Supreme Court).
Despite his losing record, he has had Dunleavy’s support. Earlier this year, the governor wrote an official letter to President Donald Trump asking the president help Clarkson get his Colombian wife and stepson into the country, describing Clarkson as “a man of exceptional character, and a devoted husband and father.”
The Anchorage Daily News also dug back into the past to find two requests for domestic violence protective orders filed by his ex-wife in 1996. In the complaints, his ex-wife accused Clarkson of harassing and threatening her. In one exchange, his former wife wrote that Clarkson “threatened me not to tell anyone ‘what happened 10 years ago.’ (He’d paid for sexual favors from a pros),” short for prostitute.
Given Clarkson’s resignation only came after the publication of the exchange, which itself came months after initial inquiries by the Anchorage Daily News, raises questions about the Dunleavy administration’s knowledge and handling of the situation. Clarkson was near to returning to work after completing a month of unpaid leave, which he says is part of the internal disciplinary actions against him, that was never publicly announced and seems to not have even been widely distributed in the Department of Law.
It seems that the plan was to hopefully allow it all to blow over without being noticed and allow Clarkson, a key architect of the administration’s most legally tenuous positions, to get back to work.