SPEAKER BRYCE EDGMON IN THE MIDDLE — AND SILENT — AGAIN
Back in 1993, when Sen. George Jacko of Pedro Bay was censured by the Alaska Senate for harassment of female staffers, Bryce Edgmon was Jacko’s up-and-coming legislative aide, and he likely saw it all go down from his front-row seat.
Jacko harassed and allegedly stalked the aide of Sen. Suzanne Little in February of 1993. His world unraveled because he called the Juneau Police Department one night and said he needed police help getting into the hotel room of the aide, because “It has to do with state government … It’s kind of an urgent situation.”
Jacko banged on the door of the hotel room where the woman was living, and the legislator also tried to cajole the clerk into giving him the key. He reeked of alcohol, the clerk later pointed out when authorities opened a case.
The whole incident blew up into a scandal that got ugly with accusations back and forth between lawmakers, and with calls for Jacko’s resignation. There was a censure by the Senate. He eventually apologized, said he thought maybe he had a drinking problem, and disappeared for treatment in Seattle.
Except that particular woman wasn’t the only one. Other women came forward and said he had put undue pressure on them to date him. One turned over notes she had received from Jacko, which showed him offering to change his votes on a bill in exchange for a date. Another said he forcibly entered her house and would not leave. He tried to have a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old page, the Senate Ethics Committee found.
Jacko was married with three children.
His legislative career ended in 1994. But his aide, young Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, filed quickly for Jacko’s seat, and although he lost that election, he eventually won a place in the House of Representatives in 2006, and he rose through the ranks by caucusing with Republicans until this year, when he rolled his colleagues and became Speaker of a Democrat-controlled body.
FAST FORWARD TO BAD-BOY II
In March of 2017, an aide to Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks wrote a letter to now-Speaker Edgmon and Majority Leader Chris Tuck, telling them of specific instances where Rep. Dean Westlake of Kotzebue had been harassing or sexually aggressive. The letter was released originally by KTVA news:
Dear Speaker Edgmon and Representative Tuck,
I am writing to address two separate instances of unwelcome physical contact from Representative Westlake, both of which happened at work-related functions.
The first occurred on January 16th at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. While walking through a narrow hallway towards the back of the building, I walked by Rep. Westlake. He grabbed me and made a comment about my hair, saying that it “turned him on”. This incident was obviously unexpected and sudden, so I kept walking before I could think of a response.
The second happened this Saturday, March 11th, at the downtown art studio Canvas. We were in a dark, crowded room and I didn’t see him until he was right next to me. He grabbed my butt as he walked by. I pushed his shoulder, but not with enough force for him to move or probably even notice since he kept moving. A nearby staffer saw the incident.
I did not expect a second incident because I thought I had made it clear that I wouldn’t welcome it again. Although I hope that nothing similar does happen again, I want to be very clear that this kind of conduct is unwelcome. Hopefully Rep. Westlake and I can both move forward in a professional manner.
I am making both of you aware so that you can share this with Rep. Westlake privately so no one is embarrassed or damaged.
Let me know if you have further questions.
Thank you for your time.
THE SILENT TREATMENT
In March, Speaker Edgmon took no action on the complaint, and neither did he take action in the following months. Finally, the matter was aired in public last week during a meeting of disgruntled Democrats who gathered in an Anchorage IBEW hall. The whole story was spilled.
The complainant, Olivia, said the party knew Westlake was a harasser when it put the full force of its campaign efforts into his candidacy against another Democrat, Ben Nageak of Barrow.
They knew because locals from District 40 had told them he was a bad egg, but the party was desperate to replace Nageak, who had caucused with the Republicans. Westlake was their best bet and they hired John-Henry Heckendorn to run the campaign. He is now the governor’s campaign manager and constant shadow, on staff in the Office of the Governor.
WESTLAKE, EDGMON VOTED TO CENSURE REP. EASTMAN
During floor debates in May of 2017 over whether to censure a fellow lawmaker, David Eastman of Wasilla, Rep. Westlake joined others in condemning Eastman for saying that rural women used pregnancies to get a free trip to the city for abortions.
“It’s not about parties. It’s about your values. Is this the kind of representation the people of Alaska deserve? It’s not a minority thing. It’s not a majority thing. It’s a standards thing for the representatives of the state of Alaska.” – Rep. Dean Westlake, condemning Rep. David Eastman, May, 2017.
His fellow Democrat Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, who led the charge to censure Eastman, piled on:
“The time for tolerating and allowing racism and sexism to continue in our state is past. … If we don’t do something, that is tacit approval,” – Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, speaking about Rep. David Eastman, May, 2017
Speaker Edgmon also chimed in about Eastman’s statement, saying, “We gave Representative Eastman many opportunities to apologize and reconsider his conduct. Unfortunately he chose to repeat his unfounded claims, which have no basis in truth and malign the motives of some of our most vulnerable citizens. Regardless of your position on abortion, all Alaskans deserve our compassion and respect. Representative Eastman’s statements on the floor of the House and in interviews with the press have shown a blatant disregard for the truth. Today’s action to censure Representative Eastman sends a strong message that such offensive, insulting, and false statements are unacceptable for a sitting lawmaker.”
“It’s incumbent upon the Legislature to set the bar. This is the 21st century. We don’t make statements like that any more.” – House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, condemning Rep. David Eastman, May, 2017
But with specific allegations of harassment against Rep. Westlake surfacing in March and again in December, the Democrat-led House Majority leadership, with Edgmon setting the standard, has remained silent — for nine months and counting. We are wondering what became of that “bar” that Speaker Edgmon mentioned last May.