ACCUSATION MADE AGAINST REP. DEAN WESTLAKE
[Editor’s note: This story has been updated]
At a meeting dubbed “Truth and Reconciliation,” Alaska Democratic Party officials met with local activists to hear their grievances on Thursday night.
And they got an earful.
Angry Bernie Sanders supporters made allegations about corruption, sexual misconduct and abuse, and overt racism in the party. They are also still steaming mad about changes to the party platform, and about how party leaders rigged the 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton.
The meeting at the IBEW Hall in Anchorage went on for hours and was livestreamed on Facebook by Jill Yordy, a Bernie Sanders State Director, and delegate to the national convention. She is legislative aide to Rep. Zach Fansler, but was not there filming in her official capacity.
Dozens of people on Facebook watched the video as a woman who identified herself as Olivia from Fairbanks told a crowd of 30 or more that she was sexually assaulted beore she began working as a staff member for the Alaska Democratic Party. Updated: The man she said assaulted her was hired by the campaign of Rep. Adam Wool, and she was forced to share an office with him. When she complained, she said officials refused to remove the offender and forced her to keep working with him.
“Abuse is not just quietly tolerated in this party, but is actively encouraged,” she said. “I went to Philadelphia last summer. I was at the party’s state convention. I organized with the Interior … I saw some really horrifying things.”
“And it’s not just newcomers, it’s not Bernie people. This has been an issue amongst you guys for years and years and it just didn’t come to light until we had this giant influx of new people,” she said.
“When I was party staff, they forced me to work with someone who sexually assaulted me and wouldn’t do anything about it. I kept saying, hey can we get this person removed from the office? Can we figure something out? And nothing was done. And like Democrats always do, I got lip service for months, it’s been a year and a half and nothing was done,” despite her repeated efforts to get the party’s executive director, Kay Brown, to take action.
The party’s current Executive Director Jay Parmley came to the party after several allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him in his former roles in state Democratic party organizations.
Olivia also accused the party of not listening to locals in rural Alaska, and she said that when told that Dean Westlake had a history of harassment, the party backed him anyway in his bid for office for District 40 against incumbent Democrat Ben Nageak. She said that Westlake, now a legislator, has harassed others.
“Last year, Anchorage-based people started campaigning for a guy in a rural house district. And they were told by people who grew up in this district that the guy is bad news, you can’t campaign for him. And now Dean Westlake is in public office. And he has harassed maybe eight people, and there are probably more. I’m one of them. Despite knowing about this, you campaigned for him anyway. You have to listen to people.”
The Westlake campaign was run by John-Henry Heckendorn of the Ship Creek Group on behalf of the Democratic Party. Westlake won after election officials in Shungnak and elsewhere allowed voters to cast two ballots. Heckendorn, who was an expert witness for the Democrats during the ensuing lawsuit brought by the Alaska Republican Party, is now the campaign manager for Gov. Bill Walker, and is on the governor’s official staff in Juneau.
Walker also backed Westlake in his primary bid to upset Nageak, who was an ally of the Republican majority in the House. Tonight, questions about how widespread the knowledge was about Westlake’s behavior were answered when Olivia said that everyone knew, but backed him anyway.
Others during the “Truth and Reconciliation” meeting accused party officials of corruption. Ray Metcalfe said the party laundered $50,000 to the Hillary Clinton campaign and that while he brought it to the executive committee, nothing was done. He said the revelations by Donna Brazile now back up his allegations of corruption.
Another participant said he’d rather not vote for a “lesser of two evils” and instead he’d prefer to let the “Republicans burn the country to the ground.” Several participants said they had already left the Democratic Party and Native participants accused the party of being racist.
Eventually, time ran out and the meeting was called to an end, even though participants were clearly not done airing their complaints. By the endof the meeting, the walls were covered with notes about what had been said by the 15 or so people who took the microphone at some point.
The video was removed from Facebook not long after the event concluded.
LEGISLATORS TO LOOK AT HARASSMENT POLICIES
Meanwhile, six legislators will review the harassment policies in the Alaska Legislature and will make recommendations to the Legislative Council before Jan. 16, the first day of regular session.
The six are Reps. Matt Claman, Charisse Millett, Louise Stutes, and Sens. Cathy Giessel, Anna MacKinnon, and Peter Micciche.