JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) The Bethel Democrat accused of slapping a woman last month resigned from the House Friday, effective Feb. 12.
Rep. Zach Fansler didn’t complete his full first term before he quit. His letter of resignation was announced during the House session Friday. (His letter is below.)
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, like Fansler a rural Democrat, said at an informal meeting with reporters Friday morning before he received the letter that he had been in touch with Fansler by phone and expected him to resign.
Then the letter from Fansler was hand-delivered by Fansler's former staff in the middle of the meeting. Edgmon was called to another office by his own staff to review at it. When he returned to the meeting, he told the assembled reporters about it, but only on condition that they not write about the resignation until Fansler’s letter was read to the full House.
A spokesman for Edgmon said Fansler had sent the letter by email to his former office staff. Those employees had been reassigned to the House Rules Committee but were still working in Fansler's Capitol office to handle constituent communications, the spokesman said.
Fansler has been dangling since a Juneau Empire story reported Saturday that he had slapped a woman and broke her eardrum on Jan. 13 after a night of heavy drinking. The Empire story didn’t name the woman, but said she was a state employee who didn’t work in the Capitol, which meant it was unlikely she was a legislative aide.
Juneau police began an investigation of the incident, which remained unresolved, and Edgmon and the House majority coalition asked Fansler to resign. They also removed his staff and asked him to turn in his office key.
In December, another member of ruling House coalition, Rep. Dean Westlake, a Democrat from Kiana, resigned over sexual misconduct allegations. He apologized to the women who accused him. Westlake’s replacement, John Lincoln of Kotzebue, took office this week, restoring the coalition to its full 22-member complement.
Now the majority is about to be back to 21 and the process of replacing a legislator begins anew. Democrats of Fansler’s district, House District 38, are supposed to send three nominees to Gov. Bill Walker, who will select a replacement. That person must be accepted by the remaining House Democrats in order to take office.
Edgmon said there was no Democratic chair in the district and that person would have to be chosen first. A meeting for selecting the chair has been scheduled for Feb. 6.
Edgmon said in interview that he didn't expect Fansler to return to the Capitol over the next 10 days to clean out his office or assume his old seat in the House. The same law that sets the effective date for Fansler's resignation also allows him to rescind his resignation before Feb. 12.
In a prepared statement, Alaska Democratic Party chair Casey Steinau thanked Fansler for his service, though she added that he made the right decision to resign.
Edgmon said in another prepared statement that he appreciated what Fansler was able to accomplish.
“Calling for Rep. Fansler’s resignation was the right thing to do given the severity of his alleged actions, but that does not mean that it was an easy thing to do because Zach was a committed and effective legislator for the people of House District 38. I also considered him a valuable member of our Coalition,” Edgmon said.
House minority Republicans said they appreciated Fansler's resignation.
“There is absolutely no excuse for dating violence," they said in a prepared statement. "Our members are proud of victims who have taken courageous steps to report such vile behavior.”