Workplace bullying is not a new affliction, but seldom is it associated with politics.
In Juneau, however, reports of a toxic work environment in the orbit of a certain legislator has everyone talking in hushed tones about whether an intervention is necessary.
That lawmaker is Rep. Geran Tarr, who represents District 19, and is aligned with what can only be described as the far Left, feminist, and environmentalist agenda. Tarr does a lot of scolding, yelling, and lately has been described by aides as “unhinged.”
BADGERING THE WITNESS: Earlier this year, Tarr took the opportunity as the new co-chair of House Natural Resources Committee to exercise her authority.
It was “her committee” now, so she scolded Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty, who was attempting to testify about how data used by a presenter in a prior presentation was misleading. Scolding Moriarty was a moment of personal triumph for a legislator who until this year had been in the minority.
“Ms. Moriarty, we are not going to make statements like that in this committee,” Tarr warned. “So you’re not going to impugn the motives of that individual. If you want to respond to anything that was said, that’s fine. But we’re not going to do that.”
Moriarty is a grownup and she continued with her testimony (which did, in fact, refute the conclusions of the committee’s star witness but in no way impugned his character).
FINGER-JABBING A COLLEAGUE: Rep. Mike Chenault, the former House Speaker, is also a grownup, after spending the better part of his adult life as a civic and political leader. He was House Speaker from 2009-2017.
After Chenault objected to a procedural aspect of Tarr’s oil tax bill, HB 111, she hurried across the House chamber and brought her stabbing fingers an inch from his face during a break, until he told her the next time she stuck her finger that close to his mouth she should remember that he bites back. A photo part of the exchange was captured by Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nat Herz.
Tarr started screaming, “Are you threatening me? I’m calling security!” And she did. She called Capitol Security. Chenault was seen shaking his head at the whole thing.
That night, according to one witness, “She was screaming at people, freaking out. Testimony was dragging on. She wanted to go home. Andy Josephson was exhausted. Harriet Drummond was in pain with her leg. Geran just lost it, completely came off the rails.”
ABUSING AND LOSING STAFF: Tarr also has a reputation in the building for publicly berating her staff. She is known to belittle and humiliate her own staff members in front of other legislative aides and legislators. No aide wanted to speak on the record, of course, but several independently corroborate this characterization.
Two years ago, one of her new staff members gave her a one-hour notice, left a short resignation note on his computer keyboard, and walked out of the building to return to river guiding. He had only worked for her for two months.
By itself, that might have been an anomaly, but this year another Tarr staffer felt so badly treated that she wrote a letter to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. And then she quit.
In fact, Tarr is well known in the Capitol for her staff burn rate, which is nearly a complete turnover year over year: Other staffers caution potential recruits about signing on with Tarr, Must Read Alaska is told by multiple insiders.
Working for legislators is not for the faint of heart. They are under a lot of pressure both from constituents and from other lawmakers. That pressure can get to them and their ability to handle others with grace is a mark of true statesmanship.
BULLYING A SENATOR’S STAFF: The “Tarr and Feather” treatment went beyond the House and has spilled into the Senate. Tarr became visibly upset at the trajectory one of her bills was taking in the Senate, left the gallery and in the hallway began berating a senior legislative aide who works for a senator who was raising some well-informed questions.
Witnesses to the incident said Tarr demanded the aide go into the room and straighten out the senator.
That bullying instance was said to be so egregious that word got back to House leadership and she was pulled aside and told to apologize. After all, the last thing Speaker Bryce Edgmon wants is to have angry Senate leadership on his back.
Is Geran Tarr a classic case of workplace bully? We reviewed the human resource literature and came up with a few signals:
HOW TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE
- Deliberately ignoring or avoiding a target;
- Purposefully excluding someone from group meetings, discussions or decisions;
- Intentionally making someone feel isolated from the team.
- Discounting or diminishing someone else’s views or concerns;
THE ANECDOTES ARE ADDING UP: In numerous interviews with staffers and legislators who have had dealings with Tarr, several of the above behaviors were described. None was able to go on the record but the inventory of complaints was consistent. What Alaskans working in the Capitol are seeing is a pattern of behavior that may qualify as bullying.Verbally abusive Tarr, a hard-left legislator in a party claiming to value inclusivity and respect, may be ripe for a workplace intervention.
- Making someone else feel useless or underused;
- Only delegating the worst of tasks or responsibilities.
- Purposefully causing hostile competition between employees;
- Intentionally creating conflict;
- Fostering a hostile team environment;
- Encouraging backstabbing;
- Publicly ranking employees.
- Constantly giving unreasonable or non-constructive criticisms;
- Fostering feelings of shame or guilt in employees;
- Making employees feel as though their work is unworthy or inadequate.
- Using an employee as a scapegoat for work mistakes;
- Blaming others for their own mistakes or faults;
- Or assuming credit for work that is not their own.