Amid sexual harassment claims, Rep. Westlake says he’ll resign

Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, speaks during a House Floor Session on Feb 3, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Dean Westlake of Kiana announced today he will resign after several women accused him of sexual harassment.

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The first-term lawmaker said in his resignation letter, “The conversation about my behavior has been elevated above the needs of my district, and that is not why I ran for office.”

He thanked the women for telling their stories and apologized for the pain he caused.

Olivia Garrett is a former legislative aide and was the first person to come forward publicly with allegations that Westlake harassed her.

“It shows that more and more so, people who do these kinds of things are going to be held accountable for their actions,” Garrett said. “And it definitely shows that we’re making progress and I am thrilled to see that.”

The Anchorage Daily News reported six other women alleged Westlake made unwanted advances and comments to them. KTUU-TV reported that more women alleged he harassed them before he joined the Legislature.

Garrett said it took courage for the others to come forward.

“People who do these sorts of things, like Rep. Westlake, they don’t just do them once or twice and never make inappropriate comments or grope people ever again. It’s a pattern of behavior and when it goes unchecked, it escalates and can really end up hurting a lot of people.”

Westlake’s district covers the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs. District Democrats will nominate three people to fill the position.

Garrett said the Democrats should live up to their professed values in who they nominate.

“It’s a party that supports women and they should definitely look for candidates who will follow through and actually live those values,” Garrett said.

Westlake’s resignation takes effect on Dec. 25. Then, Governor Bill Walker will have 30 days to pick one of the nominees as a replacement.