OPINION: Lawmakers need to set scandals aside, get down to critical business
February 9th 7:11 pm | Carey Restino
The revolving door of resigning rural legislators continues this week with the news that Bethel lawmaker Rep. Zach Fansler was accused of slapping a woman in his hotel room. Fansler resigned Friday, though criminal charges had not been filed when he made the decision.
This is a blow, considering it is on the heels of the resignation of former Rep. Dean Westlake, who was accused by more than half-a-dozen female staffers of making unwanted sexual advances.
And if that wasn't bad enough, two of Westlake's would-be successors from District 40 were also embroiled in controversy, and a third had little experience, warranting a second search net to be thrown out before John Lincoln of Kotzebue was chosen as his replacement.
It's all a little much. Watching the public reaction to these stories on social media has been interesting. Let's just say holding political office doesn't exactly hold the same glow of respect it used to. In fact, citizens seem downright suspicious of elected officials, and especially of their motives.
It's interesting to ponder why people chose to run for public office. Some, I'm sure, do it for the right reasons. They see problems they want to fix, things that are broken in their district that a little perspective and some well-thought-out-debate might change. Perhaps they have served on nonprofit boards or local government seats in the past that have helped educate them on the process. Maybe they have watched state politics evolve for years, and have a long-view perspective of the direction the state is heading.
Then there are those who get involved for other reasons — reasons like sitting in Juneau makes them feel powerful, important and will probably help their career down the road. Perhaps they are hoping to make connections in Juneau that will serve them well later, or they have friends with pet projects they would like to see move forward. Maybe they have higher political ambitions down the road, like another legislator who recently resigned to run for the office of governor.
There are two big differences between these two groups of people and it all has to do with motivations. The first group of lawmakers is motivated by the desire to serve their constituents. The second group is motivated by their own desires.
Chances are pretty good if you run your finger down the roster in Juneau, you can make a clear distinction between which camp lawmakers are in and its mostly due to how seriously they take their jobs as representatives of those who elected them.
While it's true that lawmakers are human, and should be held to human standards, one has to question why the people we have selected and elected to represent us in Juneau have, of late, been so disappointing. Sure, they are entitled to have their own lives, but going out partying and womanizing, or worse, abusing women, is not my definition of appropriate behavior for an adult who was sent to Juneau to represent his or her constituents.
Even if circumstances were less dire, such immaturity and selfishness would be inappropriate for someone sent to Juneau to do such an important job. But given the situation our state is currently facing, there has never been a time more serious for Alaska, a time requiring 100 percent focus by all its lawmakers. We are on the edge of a fiscal cliff, and lawmakers are still very much divided as to how to move forward. The financial security of our entire state is in the hands of these lawmakers as they try to find a solution. Even by Alaska standards, that seems like a good time to settle down and get serious about your job.
Don't get me wrong — the reform and renewed zero tolerance policy toward abusive behavior toward women is important work, but the timing is terrible. We have used up all our wiggle room when it comes to finding a fiscal solution, and at this point, all lawmakers need to be focused on solving that riddle.
So for everyone left in Juneau, and those who are newly seated there, please do that job and do it well. Stay focused on that one goal until you get somewhere. That's what you were elected to do — not further distract your fellow lawmakers with scandals and inappropriate behavior. It's time to grow up and get down to the business of serving your state.