JUNEAU -- To Sen. Bettye Davis, her resolution honoring 100 years of Girl Scouts and celebrating the Year of the Girl was such an obvious, apple-pie issue that she asked her student intern to present the measure Thursday to the House State Affairs Committee.
All started smoothly for Katya Wassillie, 21, a senior at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A Democratic representative mentioned that his mother and wife had been Girl Scouts. A Republican talked about how his wife serves as a Girl Scout official on the Kenai Peninsula. Both praised Davis for authoring the resolution and Wassillie for her delivery.
Then came Rep. Wes Keller, the conservative Wasilla Republican filling in as chair of the committee. He had seen something on the Internet about the Girl Scouts, he said, and suddenly Wassillie found herself in the crossfire of the culture wars.
"I'm sure you are aware of the information that's floating around the Internet, and I'd like to give you the opportunity to respond to your connection, the Girl Scout connection, with Planned Parenthood and the activist role in that -- is there a connection? Is there not? Frankly, I haven't looked into it but I see it's out there. I just wondered if you want to make a statement on that," Keller said. (An audio clip and video of the full hearing are posted here.)
He was referring to online assertions that link Girl Scouts to Planned Parenthood's support of abortion rights. There are also stories on the Internet alleging Girl Scouts promote promiscuity, radical feminism, some kind of United Nations agenda and paganism.
Wassillie, who had never been a Girl Scout herself, froze. Davis, sitting at her side, jumped in, her finger thumping a set of documents she brought with her.
"I don't have a statement to make on that. I'm not familiar that the Girl Scouts is tied up with anything with Planned Parenthood and that's not a part of this. I have no answer," said Davis, an Anchorage Democrat.
"We'll talk about that," said Keller. "That's part of the reason I'm not moving (the resolution out of committee), because I want to look into that some more then."
Davis stared back at him.
"I would like for you to give me the information that you're referring to because I don't even know what you're talking about," she said. "And I don't see how that could hold up a celebration of the Girl Scouts for 100 years of services that they have provided, and also making this the Year of the Girl, 2012. I don't see the connection, and if that was a concern, someone should've shared it with me prior to me coming here -- you shouldn't throw that on me at the point that I give my presentation, that you're holding up a bill simply because of some information you have that I don't have."
Keller agreed he should have "done his homework" and said his objections weren't the "death knell" for the measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 17.
"We have plenty time till the end of session, so we'll talk about it," Keller said, referring to the 10 days till adjournment.
"I certainly hope so," Davis replied.
The resolution was passed unanimously by the Senate on Feb. 17.
A couple hours later, Wassillie was back in Davis' office, staring at a computer screen where she was finding the allegations referred to by Keller and answers from myth-busting websites, including one run by a Catholic youth organization.
"I wasn't ready to answer that question -- I'm glad Senator (Davis) did because I hadn't heard anything to do with this kind of controversy arising from the Girl Scouts," Wassillie said.
Could Keller's remarks be seized by liberal opponents as extending the so-called Republican war on women to girls? Davis said she didn't think so.
"But I do think they (conservatives) have an agenda, and many times the agenda doesn't always sit very well with women and children in particular," she said.
"Now the Girl Scouts, this is brand-new to me, because they do so many other things other than what he suggested might be going on," Davis said. "It's a 100-year-old organization. How can you deny that they haven't done some very successful things?"
Davis said she hadn't been a Girl Scout, but is a volunteer with other legislators, administration officials and the first lady in running a troop in Juneau. To her, the goal of scouting is to help "girls feel good about themselves and know that they can be leaders in any field they want to be," she said.
Later, Rep. Paul Seaton, the Homer Republican on the State Affairs Committee who's wife is the southern Kenai Girl Scout official, described Keller's remarks as "unusual."
"Everybody else appeared to be taken aback by the statement and holding the bill," Seaton said. "I've never seen Girl Scouts on the Kenai Peninsula attached to other groups such as that. I've seen a lot of camp-outs, I've seen a lot of cookie sales and I've seen a lot of challenging hikes and trips across the bay and in the reservoir, kayaking, and learning the canoe and water safety. I'm sure they promote good healthy lifestyles for kids too. That's what we need for all our kids."
Keller, the vice chairman of the committee, was filling in for Rep. Bob Lynn, who had to testify at another committee. Davis said the measure would likely be heard again next week, perhaps this time with Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, holding the gavel.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 500-7388.