Politics

Alaska House leadership calls on lawmaker accused of hitting woman to resign

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: January 27
  • Published January 27

Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel, photographed in January 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

The leader of the Alaska House of Representatives is calling for Bethel Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler to resign after a newspaper reported he assaulted a woman.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, asked for the resignation in a statement Saturday, minutes after the Juneau Empire published an article online that said local police and the Alaska Department of Law were investigating Fansler for allegedly hitting a woman and rupturing her eardrum.

Edgmon said he became aware Friday afternoon that Fansler "had possibly behaved in a manner unbecoming of a legislator."

"Upon seeking out and verifying further information of the incident and meeting with caucus leadership, I have requested his resignation," Edgmon said in the statement.

Edgmon said "the matter" was under criminal investigation.

He, and others at the Capitol, said Saturday that they were shaken to hear of the allegations against Fansler, 39.

"Zach Fansler is someone I and many others respected and trusted, and who worked hard for his district," Edgmon said in the four-paragraph statement. "His behavior is a betrayal of trust which has created feelings of shock and deep sadness among everyone I have spoken to."

Fansler, Juneau police and the Alaska Department of Law did not return calls about the assault allegations. No charges had been filed as of Saturday evening.

Fansler's attorney, Wallace Tetlow, said Fansler denied the allegations and did not have any immediate plans to resign. When asked what specifically he denied, Tetlow said, "No comment other than to say there's a denial." Tetlow said he could not comment further because of an ongoing police investigation.

The Empire said its article was based on a series of interviews with a Juneau woman who said Fansler hit her twice in the face with an open hand in a hotel room after a night of drinking Jan. 13. The woman was not identified in the article.

The Empire reported that Fansler and the woman had a romantic relationship last summer.

The woman told the Empire that she and Fansler were out in downtown Juneau on Jan. 13. She said Fansler became drunk and she took him back to his hotel room. They kissed. She said Fansler tried to make additional sexual advances and she tried to direct him to bed, hoping he would fall asleep, the Empire reported.

She said Fansler then slapped her twice, pulled her hair and tried to stop her from leaving, the Empire reported. Eventually she was able to exit the hotel room.

In text messages later, according to the Empire report, Fansler apologized and said he was embarrassed and ashamed of himself.

In statements Saturday, House Republicans and Democrats commended the woman for coming forward.

"My heart breaks at the news that another woman has been victimized," House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said in a statement sent on behalf of the Republican minority.

"The details of the report were graphic, unsettling and difficult to read," Millett said. "Reports of dating violence, sexual assault and harassment must not be tolerated anytime, anyplace and by any person, no matter their position or title. While I do not know who this victim is, I commend her for not remaining silent."

Fansler was elected to the House in 2016 to represent the Southwest Alaska hub town of Bethel and its surrounding villages. He is part of a group of several newer, young House majority members described in a recent Politico story as helping to revive progressive Democratic politics in Alaska.

In December, Democratic House leaders asked another member of their caucus to resign. Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kiana, stepped down after being accused of making unwanted sexual advances against seven women.

John Lincoln, an executive at the Kotzebue-based NANA Regional Corp., was recently selected to replace Westlake.

Anchorage Daily News reporter Nathaniel Herz contributed to this story.