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After months of rumors and tight-lipped answers by Kenai Peninsula Borough officials, a lawsuit has finally dragged the sexual harassment allegations against former mayor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce into the light of day.
The civil lawsuit was filed on Friday by Kenai resident Pamela Wastell, who worked as the executive assistant to Pierce in 2021 and the first half of 2022, and it was first reported by the Anchorage Daily News. The basics of the allegation are that during the course of Wastell’s employment, Pierce made sexual remarks, made unwanted and unsolicited embraces that included massages, kissing and touching her breast, threatened to fire her if she said no and of “false imprisonment in her office.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was aware of Pierce’s conduct and did nothing to stop it.
“KPB knew or should have known that Pierce was a sexual harasser and bully,” the lawsuit says. “Prior to Wastell’s constructive discharge, KPB, through Pierce, subjected at least four other employees to discrimination, bullying, harassment, retaliation, and/or termination.”
The lawsuit comes after the borough already paid more than a quarter-million dollars to settle workplace complaints brought by two other employees—one female employee and one male employee—against Pierce.
Pierce resigned as KPB mayor earlier this year, claiming that he was intending to focus on the race for governor despite an exodus of campaign staff and calls from other conservatives to drop out so they could run a “serious campaign” against Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Pierce has been surprisingly active in the final month of the campaign and has attended several gubernatorial forums, including one last week where Dunleavy signaled his support for Pierce as a second-place choice.
Those calls to drop out were renewed today with the Walker/Drygas campaign releasing a statement calling on Pierce to drop out and Dunleavy to revoke his support, renewing attention to the fact that two of his attorneys general resigned while one faced accusations of workplace sexual harassment and the other of sexual abuse of a minor, which has since resulted in an indictment.
“On the rare occasion Mike Dunleavy bothers to show up, he tells Alaskans to vote for him first and to rank Charlie Pierce second,” Drygas said in a prepared statement. “What Dunleavy doesn’t talk much about is the sexual harassment that he allowed to happen steps away from his own office. He also likes to pretend Alaska is safer than ever even though we have dozens of communities without any law enforcement, and in spite of the fact that we just experienced the highest number of sexual assaults in our state’s history over the past four years. Alaskans deserve better.”
Walker isn’t unfamiliar with cutting ties. In 2018 his then-running mate Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned after a woman said he propositioned her at a hotel.
“Integrity matters,” Walker said in the same statement. “When a person in a position of power does something wrong, you don’t urge your supporters to vote for them. You demand accountability. Charlie Pierce should suspend his campaign immediately, and Mike Dunleavy should not continue to support Pierce just because it helps with his personal political ambitions.”
The one camp that has been surprisingly quiet about the news is Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign. According to the ADN, this is how the governor responded to questions when approached at AFN on Friday:
A spokesman for Dunleavy, Andrew Jensen, did not respond to emailed and texted questions about whether the lawsuit Friday impacted the governor’s endorsement of Pierce as second choice on the ballot. When a Daily News reporter approached him after the AFN forum on Saturday, Dunleavy stopped talking to bystanders and walked out an exit. Jensen later wrote in a Tweet that by the time the reporter approached, Dunleavy had already finished speaking to everyone who had been waiting to speak with him. Another member of his staff said the governor was too busy to talk to a reporter.
Jensen proceeded to take issue with the line on Twitter, claiming that the Anchorage Daily News and reporter Kyle Hopkins made up the interaction. Later, when asked if the governor has a position on whether he still supported ranking Pierce second, deflected by suggesting that Hopkins and the ADN, which earned a Pulitzer for their reporting on sexual abuse in Alaska, “are now profiting from that suffering, so I’d check how that looks first.”
You know, before we know whether a governor—who has had two attorneys general resign for sexual harassment and sexual abuse of a minor—still supports another GOP candidate who’s credibly accused of sexual harassment.
In a follow-up statement released to the Alaska Beacon, the governor’s administration still declined to take a hard stance on Pierce’s conduct or withdraw its endorsement.
“The allegations as described are serious, and we have a system of due process under the law to vet these claims. Without any way to independently verify these claims at this late date, it would be inappropriate and unfair to all parties involved to make any snap judgments or draw any conclusions from a complaint filed just days ago. I’ve been focused on my race all along, and I’m asking all Alaskans for their support.”
Democratic candidate Les Gara also told the Beacon that it seemed odd the governor continued to stick with Pierce, especially when one of their debates came after the allegations were released. He also highlighted the high-profile resignations of Dunleavy’s attorneys general.
“To me, in this race, it seems odd for the governor to encourage people to vote for Mr. Pierce given all that,” Gara said. “It’s very consistent with the way the governor dealt with the sexual harassment claim against the attorney general. Until the press caught wind of it, it didn’t seem like the governor took 500 sexually harassing texts to a young employee seriously.”
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