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HomePoliticsPolitico's version: How Zach Fansler came into office

Politico’s version: How Zach Fansler came into office

Update: Rep. Zach Fansler’s staff has been taken from him by Rules Chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, and reassigned to her office for safety. Must Read Alaska has learned that Fansler has not left Juneau this weekend, as earlier reported. But he has not been seen in Juneau. The House will gavel in on Monday for what is called a “technical session,” which means gavel in and gavel out. 


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Remember these names: John-Henry Heckendorn, Robin Brena, Forrest Dunbar, Ship Creek Group, Jonathan Kreiss Tompkins, Vince Beltrami, Joelle Hall, Jim Lottsfeldt, and Gov. Bill Walker.


In a lengthy article titled “How to Turn a Red State Purple,” Politico went to great lengths to laud the career path of  Rep. Zach Fansler.

The way Politico tells it, it was Democrat Forrest Dunbar who had finally closed the sale for the Alaska Democratic Party and got Fansler to run. The party had to take out a family man, Rep. Bob Herron, Democrat from Bethel.

Herron’s only offense? He had caucused with the Republicans, as rural Democrats often do.

The urban-based Alaska Democratic Party had targeted Herron and Rep. Ben Nageak of Barrow for removal. They succeeded by replacing Herron with Fansler and Nageak with Westlake.

Then they got Republican Representatives. Gabrielle LeDoux, Paul Seaton, and Louise Stutes to join them and stage a coup to flip the House to Democrat control.

Westlake never made it through the year before he resigned in disgrace after harassing numerous women.

[Read: Westlake letter of resignation]

Fansler made it until Jan. 13. Then, in Juneau he was prowling the bars as he is known to do, and ended up being accused of beating a woman.

The sordid details are in the Juneau Empire’s report.  Caution: The details involve drinking, hitting, slapping, and sexual bondage text messaging that was supposed to be an apology. They involve what can only be described as sexual assault on a woman, fear, and kidnapping — holding someone against her will.

[Read: Fansler: Marching for women by day, smacking them around by night]


But how is this the same Zach Fansler, the nice Jesuit volunteer glorified by a plainly left-leaning Politico reporter in a story published just one day before he ruptured a woman’s eardrum with the force of his slap?

Here are some execerpts of what Politico published on Jan. 12:

Three men in particular— [Jonathan] Kreiss-Tomkins, Forrest Dunbar and John-Henry Heckendorn—have pointed the way to reviving progressivism in the state by recruiting new, outsider candidates, teaching them how to win, and connecting them with fellow travelers. In bypassing traditional channels—which in Alaska, as everywhere else, tend to elevate predictable, uninspiring pols who have paid their dues—they’ve propelled a wave of untested candidates with little experience and even less party identity, but who believe in the economic populist agenda shared by a coalition of labor, environmentalists and the state’s large, politically engaged Alaska Native population…

According to the story I kept hearing, these three young progressives—at 33, Dunbar is five years older than the others—had found candidates who could win swing districts, coaxed them to run, and taught them how to win. All while persuading labor and Democratic Party elders to support their untested candidates, rather than more experienced pols who had paid their dues.

… several years ago, Heckendorn approached [AFL-CIO’s Joelle] Hall to see if labor might be a willing partner in a new, expansive vision of candidate recruitment. Alaska has the third-highest union membership in the country, after Hawaii and New York, so labor-endorsed candidates get cash and manpower that can make the difference in close races. Immediately, Hall was game…

Zach Fansler is a part-time lawyer, full-time math teacher and seasonal manager of the Kuskokwim 300 dog-sled race in Bethel, a far-western town across the sea from Russia. After graduating from college in 2001, Fansler moved to Alaska with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps; he has the good-guy air of the frat bro you trust to protect you from other frat bros. 

On May 31, 2016, Fansler got a phone call from an Anchorage lawyer he’d never met—one Forrest Dunbar. 

“And I’m not always the smartest guy,” says Fansler. “I’m thinking he wants me to give him some names, you know what I mean? Eventually he’s like, ‘No, I’m actually calling to gauge your interest in running.’” The filing deadline was the next day.

Dunbar explained that other Democrats would help out by raising money and teaching him whatever he needed to learn. And if he still needed convincing, he should, Dunbar told him, call John-Henry Heckendorn. Which Fansler did.

“We talked for maybe two hours while I kinda walked around the small boat harbor,” Fansler said. By the time Heckendorn explained that he could give Fansler a treasurer, an ad strategy, a graphic designer and filmmaker, and teach him which doors to knock on and what to say, Fansler was close to saying yes.

Later that day, he switched his party registration from unaffiliated to Democrat and filed his papers to run, just ahead of the cutoff.


Gov. Bill Walker, Rep. Zach Fansler, and Rep. Dean Westlake.


John-Henry Heckendorn is now the paid top aide to the governor. He is seen with the governor everywhere, and is essentially a campaign manager paid for with State dollars.

Westlake has resigned in disgrace, effective Dec. 25.

Fansler, who said he won’t resign, will be lucky if he lasts the week. He will likely be expelled by his House colleagues.

Forrest Dunbar sits on the Assembly in Anchorage.

The bars in Juneau, especially the Triangle, were curiously empty of all Democratic legislators and staff this weekend (perhaps to the relief of local women).

There have been no signs of Rep. Justin Parish leading the “swinging singles” of the House Democrats around from bar to bar as he does most nights, with himself and Rep. Adam Wool serving as wingmen for the randy, single lawmakers with too much power, too few scruples, too little restraint.

Will readers see a clarification from Politico? Not likely.

Politico was right about one thing: the fundraising and campaigning efforts of Gov. Bill Walker’s top surrogates — Anchorage Attorney Robin Brena, union lobbyist Jim Lottsfeldt, Forrest Dunbar, the Alaska Democratic Party, Joelle Hall and Vince Beltrami of the AFL-CIO, and the Ship Creek Group were “successful” in changing the House of Representatives.

Fansler will find all his friends that brought him to the party are suddenly nowhere to be found. They’re hoping they can sweep this bad episode — and Fansler himself — under the rug before election season gears up.

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Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Suzanne Downing uses precision and great depth to present the real story.

    Thank you Suzanne for keeping a sense of reality and justice in your reporting

  2. Hope no meme genius with a twisted sense of humor finds out what could be done on a t-shirt by replacing the first “p” in The Group’s name with a “t”, maybe adding the word “up” somewhere, over an abused woman’s image.
    Can’t happen, of course, because we don’t want to make Vince mad…
    But sexier than a bunch of old fat men parading about in red heels, no?
    Here’s to the party of Hillary Clinton…
    Whatever would we do for entertainment without them…

  3. Those who sat on the Westlake matter for months, sequestering the letter from the victim, were enablers for Fansler and for any other offenders we don’t know about in that had House Majority leaders immediately come down hard on Westlake there very likely would have been no subsequent Fansler victim(s). There is no way that did not occur to the House Majority over the months – that postponing justice ran the risk of more victims. Fansler and any other frat boys might have cleaned up their act had Westlake been swiftly punished. But the letter from Westlake’s victim was priceless leverage for the House Majority in keeping Westlake in line, and therefore this unnamed woman suffered. The House Majority has dirty hands here and there should be consequences.

  4. My guess is once all this blows over and Walker isn’t reelected and John-Henry Heckendorn is no longer on the Walker buddies payroll, funded in whole by state funds, he will beat feet to some other state and pull the same shenanigans with this politico piece attached to his resume. As it stands now Ship Creek and JHH are looking like a polished turd minus the polish.

    Didn’t the current head of the Democrats in AK flee his last state under less than ideal circumstances?

    The pattern is becoming clear.

  5. As stated in my comments to the Ledoux Hostile Takeover attempt article of January 17, the primary characters from the Politico article about the “new” Alaska politicians (Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Forrest Dunbar and John-Henry Heckendorn) are bereft of a moral compass. Their win at any cost mentality such as that with Fansler is now revealing that their lack of core values, such as honesty and integrity, has a very dark cost.

    The shock of the picture of our governor wearing women’s pumps in the Fansler article on the 27th is one that will be difficult to erase. There is no reality in the proposed symbology of wearing women’s shoes nor will it in anyway enhance a man’s understanding of women’s experiences other than titillate those that enjoy that sort of thing.

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