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Barrow lawmaker said to be 'doing great' after being taken from Capitol on stretcher

JUNEAU -- Rep. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, was kept overnight at a hospital here after a medical emergency on the state House floor that led to his departure from the Capitol building on a stretcher.

Nageak, 64, was giving a floor speech on a resolution on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when he sat down, holding his chest. He ultimately left the Capitol in an ambulance, said Jeremiah Campbell, a spokesman for the House Majority Caucus, to which Nageak belongs.

A statement from House Speaker Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, late Wednesday said Nageak had previously undergone surgery in Seattle and needed a blood transfusion. Wednesday's emergency stemmed from "a low blood count and not a heart attack," the statement added.

Chenault's statement said Nageak was getting another blood transfusion to prevent a similar episode but added he was "doing great."

Whether to open the refuge's coastal plain to drilling or protect it permanently as wilderness has been a major point of contention in Alaska and the nation for decades. Nageak has long asserted the plain should be explored for oil, citing the economic benefits that development would bring to Alaska and to Natives who live on the North Slope.

He's in his second term, having first been elected in 2012. He's a former North Slope Borough mayor and Assembly member and typically wears a polar bear claw necklace.

Nageak's emergency on the House floor Wednesday also halted proceedings in the Alaska Senate as a pair of members, Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, a doctor, and Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, a nurse practitioner, came to his aid, according to the Juneau Empire.

Later, a television producer and photographer for the public access program "Gavel Alaska" had their press credentials temporarily revoked by Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage and chair of the House Rules Committee, after they tried to photograph Nageak as he was being transferred to an ambulance outside the Capitol.

The Legislature's rules bar journalists from using cameras or recording equipment during a medical emergency on the floor but don't reference conduct outside the Capitol building.

Johnson's office didn't respond to an interview request and he wouldn't answer questions late Wednesday when approached by a reporter, but Chenault defended the revocations by saying the "Gavel Alaska" employees were on a parking lot "owned by the state."

"This is still on state property," Chenault said. "Right or wrong, we've got a member that's having problems — if you had an issue, you wouldn't want your picture all over the paper."

Al Cross, a former president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said in a phone interview that politicians still have "some right to privacy," but he added that Nageak's episode was "public business" happening on "public property."

"There shouldn't be any prior restraint on taking pictures," he said. "The real judgment comes when you decide what pictures to publish."