Representative Zach Fansler refuses to resign from the House, but his constituents are already planning to replace him.
The Bethel legislator is accused of assaulting a woman when she denied his sexual advances, and members of his coalition are demanding that he step down. Local Democrats met in Bethel on Tuesday to discuss who should replace Fansler if he resigns his seat, or gets expelled from it.
About 20 of Fansler’s constituents filed into an empty classroom on Bethel's Kuskokwim University campus in Bethel and tried to decide what to do. The informal meeting was attended by local professors, non-profit organizers, and city officials. Local citizen Bev Hoffman helped organize it. "We need to meet immediately," she said, "and it is my hope that leaders in the District 38 communities are doing the same thing."
Fansler’s scandal is creating a headache for local Democrats. If Fansler goes, Governor Bill Walker could select a replacement from three people recommended by the local party to finish out his term.
District 38’s Democrats weren’t prepared for this. They’re between party chairs at the moment, so no one’s technically in charge. Without a chair, they can’t nominate anyone. Then they’ll need to caucus to make their three selections. District 38 includes dozens of Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages, and constituents in those communities would need to participate in the caucus remotely. "If the Democratic Caucus says you have to be present to participate, you’re excluding a lot of people who should be involved," former AVCP president Myron Naneng argued at the meeting.
Beyond the logistical challenge, District 38’s Democrats may have trouble finding those three replacements for Fansler. It’s not that the Y-K Delta lacks leadership, says Kathy Hanson, a former teacher at the university who attended the meeting, it’s that the leaders are needed here. Not many people can just drop what they’re doing and move to Juneau.
"I think there are a number of people who could do the job very well," said Hanson." Many of them have jobs, so that narrows the group down pretty quickly."
Of course, there’s a chance that Governor Walker won’t pick anyone that the Caucus recommends. When Representative Dean Westlake resigned last month, Walker selected Kotzebue native John Lincoln to replace him, who was not one of the three candidates that his District’s Democrats submitted initially.
Like many of his constituents, community members at the meeting were still trying to process the allegations against Fansler. Kathy Hanson voted for, and with, him for years. They both taught at the university.
"He and I agree on most of the issues," she said. "He’s articulate and I thought he’d serve our district well, and I think he has in many, many, many ways.
"So," she said with a sigh, "This is tough. It’s just so unfortunate that it happened, if it happened. Sounds like it did."
Yesterday, Hanson and District 38’s Democrats took the first step towards replacing Fansler. The District Caucus will meet on February 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the Kuskokwim University campus to elect a new District Chair. Democrats who live outside of Bethel can call in and participate on a toll-free number. If you live in a village and would like to attend the meeting remotely, contact Diane McEachern at 545-4585.