‘Lift up your parka.’ As more allegations emerge, Westlake says he meant no offense

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) As Rep. Dean Westlake faces calls to resign, more women have emerged describing a pattern of unwanted advances and sexual remarks that began long before the freshman lawmaker took office.

Westlake said that he has never intended to cause offense. “I grew up complimenting people, whether it’s men or women. I take umbrage to the fact that I’ve been (labeled) a predator and that’s never been the case."

The remarks came in a lengthy interview today with Channel 2 at legislative information offices in Anchorage. The Kiana Democrat has been accused by seven legislative employees of unwanted advances, sexually charged comments and in one case, groping.

“When you’re an elected official, we expect more from you,” said Anna Sattler, an Anchorage woman who said Westlake, 57, acted inappropriately toward here during an encounter about three years ago at the Dena’ina convention center. Westlake hugged her and commented that he could tell her bra size from the hug, she said.

As she walked away, she said he texted her to “lift up your parka.”

Westlake said he does not remember this incident. In other interviews, women who said they did not want to be identified because they were worried about repercussions described remarks or texts they had received from Westlake -- during workplace encounters -- that made them uncomfortable in the years before he took office.

Here are excerpts from today’s interview, edited for length and clarity.

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WESTLAKE: “I’ve never understood it to be anything other than genuine affection, genuine admiration when I tell someone they’ve got gorgeous hair, or whatever the case may be, or man you look good today.”

KTUU: Isn’t there a difference between affection or (being) warm and hugging and commenting on a women’s body? Or telling her that she’s sexy or touching her in a sexual manner?

“That is, that aptly is.”

These women said you did that. Did you do that?

“You know, I don’t think so, I really don’t think so. It doesn’t sound like it. If I did, what it is, is just an attempt at humor. Crude, terrible. In terrible, in retrospect, never should have happened if it did.”

If a young woman says, ‘Hey, he touched my butt,’ you would know if you did that. Did you do that?

“I would assume so.”

What do you mean you would assume so? … Either you did it or you didn’t?

“It just, OK, no. … no. No I didn’t touch any butts."

OK, well your staffer is giving you a motion to say no.

WESTLAKE’S LEGISLATIVE STAFFER: “He can’t discuss it. That allegation is a confidential personnel matter, he can’t discuss.”

I’ve spoken to women who say they had interactions with you that made them uncomfortable before the Legislature. That’s not the subject of any investigation, but it’s similar behavior. I spoke to a woman who said, 'I saw Dean at the Dena’ina, he gave me a hug. He commented that he could tell what size my (bra) was and as I walked away, he texted me and said, ‘lift your parka up.’” Do you remember that?

“No I don’t. I absolutely don’t remember that.”

Do you deny doing that?

“What I do is, I do not remember that. If I said anything untoward or anything like that, it’s me trying a sense of humor that I thought was OK. And it isn’t OK. Not by any stretch of the imagination are actions like that OK. They are reprehensible. There are things that I think are humor where the other person doesn’t think that.”

“I may have made someone uncomfortable but I sure wish they would have told me that.”

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NOTE: At this point in the interview Westlake was asked about allegations that he was temporarily banned from volunteering at the KOTZ radio station after a complaint from a young woman. KTUU spoke with a former station board member and another former station official who described the decision. Rosie Hensley, who board members said was station manager at the time, confirmed their account. Through his staff, Westlake said he doesn’t know if he was ousted because he had quit working as a volunteer to “deal with a continuous divorce at the same time.”

KTUU: On one hand you’re saying times have changed and this behavior now is unacceptable. But there are indications you’ve been called out for this behavior throughout your life.

"OK."

Isn’t that true?

“Probably. I think every one of us, maybe. I don’t know. Has done things that we regret. Like I said in my letter. You don’t realize how inappropriate they can be. How hurtful they can be. And I want to take this as my opportunity to learn."

“I absolutely want to learn from this. I owe the people that voted me in here that. I owe them that dignity that. I owe them for this seat I sit on. It doesn’t belong to anyone but them.”

“So the opportunity is there at the next election. You dislike what I’ve done. You believe whatever rumor may be in there. That’s your prerogative. You are an American citizen. Vote your conscience. That’s all I say.”

...

“We’re you investigated at (a former employer) for sexual harassment?

“Was I ever investigated for sexual harassment. I believe so. Yes.”

Note: Westlake is asked if the investigation came under a specific employer.

“I won’t say. Every institution I’ve ever worked for I respect, and I’ll leave it at that.”

...

How is it going to be just doing the job as a legislator? You’ve got the party calling for you to step down. The House leadership. Can you be an effective legislator when your peers are saying you should step out of office?

“I think if I’m going to step (out) of the office, it’s going to be the people that decide. And while I respect the party leadership, they’re not the ones that cast their vote where I got to sit down there in Juneau. It wasn’t the Democratic Party that decided whether I get to sit in Juneau, and it wasn’t the Republican Party that decided whether I sit down in Juneau. It was up to the people in House District 40. It’s there resources. I’m there to protect and defend their resources."

I’ve spoken to women who say, ‘Look I had an interaction with Dean, it made me uncomfortable, I want to tell you about it,’ and they don’t want to give their name because they are afraid of repercussions from you. They’re afraid you’ll kind of use your authority to make life hard for them. What would you say to those women?

“Ladies, that would never happen. The thing is, I absolutely respect them for doing this. There is not a one of them that I don’t respect for doing this. They should be heard. By the same token, the accused should also be heard. And there should be a respectful thing there. They have every right to do it and they should. They really should. I will be the first one fighting for that down in Juneau, they should be protected.”

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