A week after his own coalition demanded his resignation, House District 38 Representative Zach Fansler stepped down on Friday morning. The freshman Democrat from Bethel is accused of assaulting a woman when she rejected his sexual advances, though he denies the allegations.
KYUK: In the resignation letter he submitted to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon Friday morning, Fansler wrote that he planned “to dedicate more time to personal matters.”
“It has been an honor to work beside my colleagues in the Alaska House of Representatives and serve the residents of the 38th District and this great state,” Fansler said. He did not respond to KYUK’s request for comment, though his attorney did.
Fansler’s resignation letter will take effect February 12, and Governor Walker will have another 30 days to name his replacement. Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Democrats are already considering Fansler’s replacement and will caucus to select a new chair for the District on Tuesday.
In an interview with KYUK, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said that Fansler’s resignation will bring closure to his colleagues, his constituents, and the woman who accused him.
"To his constituents out in House 38," he said, "our message to you from the coalition is that your staff is working hard on your behalf."
"It’s a sad day to know that your legislator was involved in something like this," he added, "but in the meantime, things continue on."
State legislators started demanding that Fansler resign last weekend, when the Juneau Empire published a searing account of the assault allegations against him. A woman accused Fansler of slapping her multiple times when she tried to leave his hotel room, rupturing one of her eardrums.
In a text message on Friday, the woman told the Juneau Empire that, "Zach caused me a great deal of physical and emotional pain, but he also let down his constituents, and they deserve better."
Fansler did not mention the assault allegations in his resignation letter, and he didn't apologize to the woman who made them. "I was disappointed to read in his resignation letter that Zach is avoiding taking responsibility for his actions," the woman told the Juneau Empire. "Since his resignation is not effective until the 12th and he is still collecting per diem, I suggest that he donate the next 10 days' per diem to the Tundra Women's Coalition."
Fansler's attorney, Wallace Tetlow, defended Fansler's decision to refain from apologizing in his statement. "Why would you apologize for something you didn’t do?" he said in an interview with KYUK.
Tetlow has repeatedly denied the assault allegations on his client’s behalf. The Juneau Empire used an extensive text exchange between Fansler and the woman to corroborate her account of the assault, along with her medical records and interviews with her friends, but the newspaper has not published the full text conversation. Tetlow suggested that several apparently damning text messages were taken out of context or were referring to something else.
"He decided to resign because the false allegations against him basically create an atmosphere where he cannot do his job," Tetlow said.
The Juneau Police Department and the Alaska Department of Law are investigating the allegations against Fansler, and his coalition appears to believe that they are true. Speaker Edgmon demanded that Fansler resign within hours of the Empire’s report and spoke with Fansler privately three different times this week. House leadership also stripped Fansler of his staff last weekend and assigned them to the House Rules Committee. Edgmon confirms that they are back at their desks in the House District 38 office.
The staff released a statement of their own this afternoon. “These are very serious allegations that warrant careful consideration, and Mr. Fansler and the victim deserve to have the matter handled within the justice system,” they wrote. “We will continue to do our best to keep constituents informed and have their legislative and agency issues addressed.”
KYUK reached out to the Y-K Delta's remaining representative in office, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, for comment on Friday. Though he was seen speaking on the Senate floor Friday, Sen. Hoffman's aide said that he would not be available for comment for several days.
This is the second time that Edgmon has called for a member of his own party to resign. In December, he demanded that Representative Dean Westlake step down after he was accused of sexual harassment. Those claims were later substantiated.
Edgmon said that he’d worked closely with Fansler during his term and was very surprised by the allegations against him. "I thought he did a great job," he said. "I thought he was personable, I thought he was a great team member. I thought that he had a great future in front of him."
Edgmon added that a Subcommittee of the Legislative Council is revising and strengthening the State House’s sexual harassment policies. He said that the subcommittee has met several times this week.
Andrew Kitchenman and Anna Rose MacArthur contributed to this reporting.