JUNEAU, Alaska – An Alaska lawmaker who was accused by several women of inappropriate behaviour announced Friday that he will resign.
Staff for state Rep. Dean Westlake hand-delivered his resignation letter to the House speaker’s office. The letter came three days after Westlake rejected calls from House and party leaders who said he should step down.
Pressure mounted on the freshman Democrat from western Alaska after a growing number of women came forward claiming Westlake acted inappropriately or made them feel uncomfortable. One said he grabbed her buttocks. There were also complaints he engaged in lingering hugs and made inappropriate comments.
Westlake’s resignation letter thanked the women who came forward and apologized “for the pain I have caused.” He also apologized to his constituents.
“As recent allegations of my behaviour have superseded discussions about my constituents, my ability to serve them has been diminished,” he wrote. “The conversation about my behaviour has been elevated above the needs of my district, and that is not why I ran for office.”
The letter was dated Friday and did not specify a date for Westlake’s resignation. A resignation becomes effective 10 days after the letter was sent if no date is specified for the resignation, according to state law.
Olivia Garrett, a former legislative aide who did not work for Westlake, complained to House leaders last March about two instances of unwelcome physical contact from Westlake. She recently went public.
Since then, several other women have said they had encounters with Westlake that were inappropriate or made them uncomfortable, prompting House and party leaders to call for his resignation.
“I know that this isn’t exactly something worth celebrating but I’m thrilled to see that this kind of behaviour now has consequences,” Garrett told The Associated Press after Westlake announced he would resign.
Casey Steinau, the chairwoman of the state Democratic party, said Westlake made the right decision.
“We are committed to our zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy and will work with our candidates going forth in understanding our Code of Conduct and required sexual harassment awareness training course,” Steinau said in a statement.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent who was formerly a Republican, has 30 days starting when the resignation is effective to appoint a successor from a list of names that will be provided by Democrats from Westlake’s district.
Westlake’s successor must be a Democrat under state law governing appointments when vacancies occur and the successor will be subject to confirmation by House Democrats.
Walker told reporters that Westlake’s decision to resign was appropriate.