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Alaska House condemns Anchorage lawmaker’s comments about female colleague’s appearance

From left to right: Alaska state Reps. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, and Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, speak on the Alaska House floor on Friday, March 5, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The House passed a so-called Sense of the House on Friday, condemning as inappropriate and objectifying comments Fields had made toward Rasmussen last month. (Peter Segall/The Juneau Empire via AP, Pool)

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Friday rebuked comments that Rep. Zack Fields made about a female colleague’s physical appearance during what was supposed to be a birthday tribute to her last month.

Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, in a floor speech apologized for comments he said contributed to an environment in which women are objectified and in which “their knowledge and contributions are not allowed to stand on their own. I’m deeply sorry for this.”

His comments Friday came as the House weighed the rebuke, the so-called Sense of the House, which later passed by unanimous consent, meaning there wasn’t a roll call vote but there were no objections to it being approved.

Fields, in what was supposed to be a birthday tribute to Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen on the House floor on Feb. 24, said he was quoting one of her constituents as writing that Rasmussen could “wear a short skirt in Anchorage and stop traffic once the spring clothes can be worn, end quote.”

“Madam Speaker, I know we all share this voter’s concern about traffic safety, particularly in a neighborhood like Sand Lake, where so many children walk to school,” Fields said, referring to Rasmussen’s Anchorage district. “Furthermore, I know nobody in this chamber would be so judgmental as to condemn a colleague for just being as the good Lord made her.”

He went on to say colleagues had teamed up to buy her sweatpants. “It’s the least we can do for the safety of her residents,” he said.

Video of the floor session, which offered a limited vantage point, showed some legislators tapping on their desks — the legislative equivalent of a clap — but a number notably did not.

His remarks that day came after Rasmussen spoke about helping to restart a legislative Women’s Caucus.

Fields on social media the next day said he had called Rasmussen to apologize, and he said he pledged to “do better.”

Rasmussen said Friday this should be used as “a moment of growth and learning so we as a society can do better in the future and not have to endure some of these things that we’re talking about today.”

Her voice cracked in speaking about her children, and she stressed the importance of striving to treat everyone with respect.

The Sense of the House was offered by Republican Rep. Sarah Vance of Homer. It stated that Fields’ comments on Feb. 24 “brought discredit” upon the House and that “no member should be objectivized on the House Floor, and that such comments should never again be uttered on the House Floor by any member.”

Vance said this was not about “punishing” any legislator but setting a precedent “that discrediting statements have no place in the Legislature and that respect should be paramount among all legislators.”

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, listens as Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, delivers an apology on Friday, March 5, 2021, for earlier remarks. Vance called for a Sense of the House vote to rebuke Fields for his comments. (Peter Segall/The Juneau Empire via AP, Pool)