WHAT DEMOCRATS DID TO GET DEAN WESTLAKE IN OFFICE
The Alaska Democratic Party was successful beyond its wildest dreams in 2016.
Campaign operative John-Henry Heckendorn had delivered: Dean Westlake beat incumbent Rep. Ben Nageak by eight votes. That was what they needed in order to flip the House of Representatives.
The Alaska Democrat machine hired Heckendorn, who had been the communication director for the Alaska Democratic Party and had launched the Ship Creek Group, to bring home the seat in District 40 for them.
Heckendorn partnered with Jim Lottsfeldt, a Democrat lobbyist who runs numerous independent expenditure groups to help Democrats, and who owns MidnightSunAk, a blog that he finds useful to his Democrat and union clients.
Although they had to defend a fraudulent 2016 primary election in court, the Democrats, Heckendorn, and the Division of Elections made it work.
WHY DID DEMOCRATS EAT THEIR OWN?
Nageak, a moderate Democrat from Barrow, had caucused with the Republicans, as rural Democrats often do. Political parties don’t take kindly to their members caucusing with the opposition. (Republicans are now dealing with the same problem with Reps. Louise Stutes, Gabrielle LeDoux, and Paul Seaton).
Everyone loved Bennie on both sides of the aisle. He was the head of the House Natural Resources Committee, important to his district. Nageak had to be beat in order for the Democrats to take over the House.
It was nothing personal — this was just politics.
The obvious choice to replace him was the man who had run for the seat in 2014 — Dean Westlake of Kiana and Kotzebue. He had come within striking distance. He had name recognition.
And he had a problem. He was a known predator. He had a history of domestic violence. He had impregnated a 15-year-old girl while he was a police officer. Democrats knew about at least some of the problems — they’re all over the court records. Others were widely known in Kotzebue and Kiana. In the small towns and villages, women knew.
But that didn’t matter. Kay Brown, then executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, did not listen to locals any more than she listened to the majority of Alaska Democrats who said they wanted Bernie Sanders for president, rather than Hillary Clinton. Casey Steinau, the chair of the party, ignored local objections to Westlake as well.
Earlier this month a woman who worked for the Alaska Democratic Party in 2016 castigated party leaders for not listening to the locals in that race.
Olivia Garrett said that local Democrats told Anchorage Democrats about Westlake, “but you don’t listen,” she said. She described how, since he had been in office, Westlake had harassed at least eight women, including herself, “and there probably are more.”
Westlake was forced out of office this week after allegations started piling up on him. His resignation letter is here.
ACTORS WHO PLAYED A ROLE IN WESTLAKE VICTORY
Anchorage Democrats took the lead. Hiring John-Henry Heckendorn’s Ship Creek Group, and with an independent expenditure group financed by people like Gov. Walker’s surrogate Robin Brena and the AFL-CIO’s Vince Beltrami, the Democrats set out to defeat Nageak.
He was hard to defeat because his only fault was caucusing with Republicans, but they made that a capital offense.
Hosting the Anchorage fundraiser for Westlake on the expansive lawns of the Brena estate were Democratic Party regulars: Mark Begich, Casey Steinau (chair of Alaska Democrats), Kay Brown (executive director), Stephen Blanchett, Colin McDonald, Agatha Erickson, Kate Consenstein, Chris Tuck (then Democratic House minority leader), and other Democratic legislators: Les Gara, Andy Josephson, Harriet Drummond, Geran Tarr, Sam Kito, Adam Wool, Scott Kawasaki, and Ivy Spohnholz.
Also cohosting were union representatives Joelle Hall, Tom Wescott, Joey Merrick, plus names readers will recognize from their Begich connections: Forrest Dunbar, Eric Croft, David Ramsuer, Susanne Fleek, Schawna Thoma, and Elvi Gray-Jackson.
Democrat Rep. Les Gara, wrote this in 2016: “Whether you’re from rural or urban Alaska, we are all in this together. A better legislature helps us all! I’m joining friends from Western Alaska and Northwest Alaska to help.”
The Division of Election helped, too. In places like Shungnak, election workers made sure that everyone — especially Democrats — voted two ballots in the primary. That way they could vote for Sen. Lisa Murkowski on the Republican ballot and still vote the Democrat ballot.
In Buckland, an anomaly occurred that had an excessive number of “personal representative” ballots being cast — as though a disease had somehow raced through the community and everyone had to send their ballots in via a couple of Democratic activists. More personal representative ballots were cast in Buckland, population 426, than in all of Wasilla.
Lieutenant Gov. Byron Mallott called the election a success. Must Read Alaska begged to differ, calling it fraud.
The Alaska Republican Party sued over the result, and won in the first round in Superior Court.
The Democrats brought in Heckendorn as their expert witness for Alaska rural elections. Although he had only been in the state a few years, he told the court he had spent a lot of time traveling District 40, putting up signs, and he was sure that the people of Shungnak favored Westlake. He had spreadsheets, although on cross-examination he admitted that the numbers added up wrong.
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott appealed the ruling, saying, “We are disappointed that the Superior Court ruled that a poll worker error in Shungnak was sufficient to change the outcome of the House District 40 Primary Election. We have already appealed the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court. We want absolute clarity on the issues involved and will follow whatever measures the Supreme Court deems appropriate in order to secure a fair election for the two Democratic legislative candidates in House District 40.”
Republicans were able to mount only a head-fake challenge — they didn’t have the money to take it all the way. The Division of Election prevailed and certified the election for Westlake.
“We believe all voters in rural Alaska should be able to vote in a legal election,” said Tuckerman Babcock, of the Alaska Republican Party, in September of 2016. “And we have provided the Division of Elections with appropriate remedies for solving the problems that the Division created when it allowed illegal voting to occur. Not only in Shungnak, but in the Barrow precincts as well, the process was so flawed that no one knows how the people really voted.
“[Casey] Steinau says the people of District 40 have spoken. Well, the voters tried, but the Division of Elections messed up. Many voters were confused, told they could not vote when the law said they could, and even voted twice when they should have voted once. It’s stunning that the chair of the Democratic Party would want her favored candidate to win so badly that she openly endorses illegal voting,” Babcock said after the court’s decision went for Westlake.
THE DEMOCRATS’ COVER-UP
As a legislator, Westlake was known for drinking parties in his office. And he was known to say lascivious things to women.
Last March, Olivia Garrett filed a complaint against Westlake. She gave her letter, addressed to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, to Tuck, who had coached her on how to word it. Tuck, she thought, was going to take care of it quietly and counsel Westlake to behave.
Garrett, then an aide to Rep. Scott Kawasaki, was out on a limb by herself, and waiting months, while no action was taken. She finally quit the Legislature.
What did the Democrats do in the meantime? They ginned up a whisper campaign against Sen. David Wilson of Wasilla, and suckered the media into following that story, which had never had an actual complaint filed, all the while sitting on a letter accusing Westlake of real harassment.
The Democrats also went after Rep. David Eastman for saying that women in rural Alaska were using pregnancies to get to the city for abortions. They demanded an apology from him. The media could not get enough of this story and Democrats used it to consume days of legislative time last spring.
While Edgmon was expressing outrage toward Eastman over his comments, he was quietly sitting on a very credible complaint he had about Westlake over groping.
Cynically, Westlake even signed the letter demanding an apology from Eastman:
This month, the jig was up. Garrett blew the lid on Democratic leaders who had to have Westlake prowling the halls of the Capitol, preying on women. She told all.
The Alaska Democrats called on Westlake to resign. Westlake refused.
On Friday, reporter Liz Raines of KTVA brought the final death blow to Westlake’s ascent. She reported that as a 28-year-old police officer, Westlake fathered a child with a 15-year-old.
That would be rape. Westlake knew the story was coming. He huddled with a few political operatives in Anchorage. And then he resigned.
Today, those who rallied around Westlake in 2016 are nowhere to be found for him. Those who called him a friend are busy scrubbing their Facebook feeds of any mention of the man.
Heckendorn, who brought Westlake into office, is now the defacto campaign manager for Gov. Bill Walker, and is on the state payroll as his “special assistant”.
What happens to District 40’s representation now? The Democrats from District 40 will offer the governor three names, and he will pick one to serve out Westlake’s term. They won’t offer Ben Nageak, who lost the fraudulent election by only eight votes and very probably won it but for the Mallott-sanctioned fraud.
He or she will likely be a reliable Democrat vote, something that Westlake might not have been and Nageak was certainly not.
As reported this week in Must Read Alaska, a source that has asked not to be identified said Westlake may have been blackmailed with the March complaint that had been filed with Reps. Edgmon and Tuck.
Westlake had become noticeably paranoid after March of 2017, and told people that Tuck was watching him. And he quickly switched his vote on HB 111, oil tax legislation, to line up with his party. When asked, he held his finger to his head as though he had a gun pointed at him. He said he had not choice.
No investigation of Speaker Edgmon, House Majority Leader Tuck, or Rep. Kawasaki has been launched to determine why they buried the allegations against Westlake and allowed him to continue to prey on women in Juneau.