Alaska lawmaker accused of hitting woman resigns from office
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska lawmaker is resigning after being accused of hitting a woman during a night of drinking last month, the second House Democrat and rural Alaska representative to leave office under a cloud in recent months.
The resignation of first-term state Rep. Zach Fansler of Bethel was announced on the House floor Friday and will be effective Feb. 12.
Fansler faced pressure to resign from House leaders for nearly a week, following a Juneau Empire report last Saturday that a woman had accused him of slapping her hard enough to rupture an eardrum shortly before the legislative session began last month.
Fansler’s attorney, Wally Tetlow, told The Associated Press on Friday that Fansler is innocent of the allegations against him. He said they are cooperating with the investigation and have been in communication with the district attorney’s office. No charges have been filed. Tetlow referred to initial reporting on the matter as “extremely misleading.”
Fansler, in his resignation letter, said he was resigning to dedicate more time to “personal matters.” He said his constituents deserve a representative who can devote his or her full time to issues affecting the district.
“Unfortunately, I am unable to do so at this time,” he wrote.
Fansler had missed committee hearings and floor sessions since the allegations became public.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon told reporters earlier Friday that he had spoken with Fansler “at least a couple of times” this week and made it clear that the caucus continued to seek his resignation.
Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, said Fansler did good work as a legislator and it’s been a difficult issue for Fansler, the caucus and Fansler’s district.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, in a statement, said that while Fansler was “well liked and respected, his actions were counter to our shared values. We felt the decisive action of calling for his resignation had to be taken to maintain the public trust.”
Fansler’s departure means the House will have another vacancy. Fansler is the second member since December to resign from the House majority coalition, which is comprised largely of Democrats.
In December, another first-term representative, Democrat Dean Westlake of Kotzebue, resigned after being accused by female aides of unwanted touching and inappropriate comments. Westlake has said he’s sorry if he made anyone uncomfortable.
Westlake’s replacement took office on Wednesday.
Fansler and Westlake each defeated Democrats who caucused with Republicans when the GOP held control of the House. After the 2016 elections Democrats wrested back control of the 40-member House, cobbling together a fragile, 22-member majority that includes three Republicans and two independents.
Under state law, Fansler’s replacement must also be a Democrat and Gov. Bill Walker will have 30 days from the date of the vacancy to appoint Fansler’s successor. The successor will have to be confirmed by House Democrats.