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Needed: Volunteers and gifts to help keep Christmas

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 22:16

On Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 13 and 14, The Salvation Army will join the Food Bank of Alaska, U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots, Lutheran Social Services, United Way of Anchorage and many other social service organizations for one of Alaska's largest charity events, Neighborhood GIFT. The event, which will attract thousands of Anchorage residents, will take place at the Sullivan Arena and at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River.

This annual event is staffed by an army of community volunteers. These volunteers donate their time, energy, money and love to provide a full holiday meal including whole turkeys, stuffing, vegetables, plus children's Christmas toys to thousands of families in need here in Anchorage and Eagle River. Last year at GIFT more than 15,000 people were served and went home with the fixings of a great holiday meal or toys for their children or both.

In 2016, our volunteers and donors at GIFT helped 5,753 families who were facing a choice between a Christmas celebration or paying rent. Because of the community's generosity, families that otherwise would have spent Christmas pretending it is a day like any other could now afford to prepare themselves a well-stocked, nutritious, and fully donated meal. 7,767 children woke up on Christmas morning able to open presents that were provided by Neighborhood GIFT. Indeed, more than 15,500 toys and gifts were distributed during these two days.

The Salvation Army has spent weeks collecting toy donations through our Angel Tree program and other toy drives for Neighborhood GIFT, but sadly we are extremely low and do not have enough donations to provide what will be needed this year. Especially in short supply are gifts for children ages 9-14.

It is an unfortunate reality that we will never be equipped to help everyone who needs it, but this year it seems that Anchorage is being hit by hard economic times. There are more people than ever who need help during the upcoming Christmas holiday.

In 2016, The Salvation Army was blessed to have the help of 1,220 volunteers at GIFT who gave a combined 3,941 volunteer hours over two days.  It's only because of the kindness of our volunteers that we are able to provide some holiday relief for Anchorage families that need a hand.

We are desperately short of volunteers this year, and we are in dire need of toys and gifts for ages 9-14 by this Tuesday.

Please, go to volunteer.salvationarmy.org and sign up to volunteer and visit alaska.salvationarmy.org to find the many locations where you can drop off new, unwrapped toys to be donated to Neighborhood GIFT.

All over town you can find Angel Trees sponsored by Wells Fargo, Bass Pro Shops, Carrs, GCI, Sears Mall, Denny's, Chugach Electric Assoc. and scores more generous Alaska businesses and agencies. Pick a tag from a tree and bring some cheer to a child who needs it this year. You can also find toy and gift collection boxes at participating Walmart and Fred Meyer stores across Anchorage.

The Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, Food Bank of Alaska and all our partner agencies will be at the Sullivan Arena this Wednesday and Thursday. We'd love to see more Alaskans come together in this time of need and join us as we encourage our neighbors during these trying times.

There is always someone in need, but there is also always a way to help.

Thank you for helping us help others.

Merry Christmas.

Maj. Mike Dickinson is divisional commander for The Salvation Army Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Lobbyists ask for votes. Some lawmakers want much more.

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 19:30

Vanessa Alarid was a lobbyist in New Mexico when she asked a lawmaker over drinks one night if she could count on his support for a bill that appeared to be coming down to a single vote.

"You can have my vote if you have sex with me," Alarid recalled the lawmaker saying, although he used cruder language for sexual intercourse. He told Alarid she had the same first name as his wife, so he would not get confused if he called out in bed. Then he kissed her on the lips, she said.

Shocked, Alarid, who was 32 at the time, pushed him away. Only after he was gone did she let the tears flow.

When her bill came up on the floor of the New Mexico House of Representatives the next day, March 20, 2009, it failed by a single vote, including a "No" by the lawmaker, Rep. Thomas A. Garcia.

As Alarid watched from the House gallery, she said, Garcia blew her a kiss and shrugged his shoulders with arms spread.

[Alaska House leaders call for Westlake's resignation after report details alleged unwanted advances]

Charges of harassment are cascading through statehouses across the country, leading to investigations, resignations of powerful men and anguish over hostile workplaces for women that for years went unacknowledged. Amid this reckoning, one group of victims has stood apart: political lobbyists.

Part of a frequently disparaged profession, female lobbyists have emerged as especially vulnerable in legislatures and in Congress because, unlike government employees, they often have no avenue to report complaints and receive due process. Lobbyists who have been harassed are essentially powerless in their workplaces, all-dependent on access to mostly male lawmakers for meetings and influence to advance legislation and earn their living.

Alarid, who has not publicly told her story before, was fearful that in coming forward, lawmakers would shut their doors to her and she would lose clients as a lobbyist in Santa Fe, the New Mexico capital. "My relationships with legislators are so important and valuable to my job," she said.

Two former New Mexico legislators, Sandra Jeff, a Democrat, and Rod Adair, a Republican, said Alarid told them of the 2009 encounter shortly after it occurred. Will Steadman, Alarid's supervisor at the company she represented, SunCal, a land developer, said he was also told of the episode.

Garcia, who left office in 2012, denied he had offered to trade a vote for sex or blew a kiss to Alarid. "I held the institution of the Legislature with too high regard to do anything that would provide any kind of personal gain, financial or otherwise,'' he said.

Female lobbyists from Arizona to Virginia described statehouse cultures that were throwbacks to male-dominated institutions like 1960s Madison Avenue. Long working days flow into alcohol-fueled socializing with male lawmakers, often bunked in hotels in isolated small towns for the few months of a state legislative session.

[Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

Seasoned lobbyists said that smoothly deflecting a lawmaker's physical advance was a job skill as essential as winning support for a bill.

"When I've been cornered up against a wall by a senator who is much larger than me, all I'm thinking is, 'How do I get out of this with a smile on my face and maintain the relationship?'" said Rebecca Johnson, a lobbyist in Washington state.

Text-messaging, ubiquitous between lawmakers and lobbyists, can easily slide into personal and suggestive banter, which women feel pressed to go along with.

Sarah Walker, a lobbyist for criminal justice groups in Minnesota, worked closely with state Rep. Tony Cornish, the gatekeeper in the House for policy about her issues. "From the very first time I met with him, he took a very acute interest in me and began texting me regularly, asking me out," she said.

One text, which Walker showed The Times, read, "Would it frighten you if I said that I was just interested in good times good wine good food and good sex?"

Cornish, 66, at first called Walker's charges "damned lies" in the Minnesota media. But last month, he reached an agreement with her to resign from office, apologize and pay her legal fees, avoiding a lawsuit. Cornish did not respond to a request for comment.

Female lawmakers often act as witnesses to harassment. Last year, state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Republican in New Mexico, was out with a young female lobbyist when the lobbyist got a text on her phone from an older, powerful legislator.

"The text said, 'Hey, let's talk about this bill, my wife's not here, come up to my hotel room,'" Fajardo said. "She didn't know what to do, and I didn't know what to do. It's bothered me ever since."

A symbiotic relationship

The lobbying profession is built on developing trust with lawmakers, often after office hours. Almost all lobbyists routinely throw fundraisers for lawmakers and direct contributions from political action committees. A close relationship develops, built on money and familiarity. Like any workplace, there are consensual sexual relationships, sometimes extramarital. Some female lobbyists pointed out that there are women in the field who have learned to manipulate men given to flirtation, when it suits their interest.

Thomas K. Norment Jr., the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, admitted to an affair in 2013 with a lobbyist whose firm pushed 63 bills that advanced to the Senate floor. He did not abstain on any of the votes. The relationship was reviewed by the FBI, but no charges were filed.

Although dozens of lawmakers in some 20 states have been accused of sexual harassment since last year, including by fellow legislators, staff members and lobbyists, many of the lobbyists have asked to remain anonymous for fear of ending their careers.

In interviews, female lobbyists said that there was a power imbalance between legislator and lobbyist and that they were usually at the losing end.

Elise Higgins, who lobbied for Planned Parenthood in Kansas from 2014 until this year, said she endured frequent hugs from male lawmakers — "a hello hug, a thank-you hug, a goodbye hug" — and comments about her body.

During a meeting with a lawmaker to discuss a bill, he ended the conversation with a remark on her appearance. "You're a pretty girl," he said approvingly.

"I remember being intensely annoyed," said Higgins, who declined to name the lawmaker. At the same time, "I always was deferential to legislators. I needed to be in good relationships with them in order to do my job. I couldn't afford to lose a vote."

[How Congress plays by different rules on sexual harassment and misconduct]

No place to report

For many female lobbyists on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and advances, reporting the offenses has rarely been a consideration. Nicole Grant, a lobbyist for an electricians union in Washington state from 2009 to 2015, recalled leaving a meeting with a group of lawmakers and lobbyists at the state Capitol. As she walked out of the room, Rep. Jim Jacks wrapped his arm around her lower back. Then his hand reached for her rear end and gave it a squeeze.

Shocked and distraught, Grant fled outside, but she didn't dare report the incident.

"I'm representing people just like me," said Grant, 39, a journeyman electrician. "I'm just really focused on delivering for them. You don't let anything get in the way. Some guy grabs you, it's like, eye on the prize."

The legislator, Jacks, resigned in 2011 after a female legislative staff member accused him of sexual misconduct. He blamed alcoholism for his departure. Jacks did not respond to a request for comment.

Walker, 40, described years of harassment by Cornish, the Minnesota legislator, including repeated propositions for sex. She never lodged a formal complaint, she said, because she feared losing access to Cornish.

"There was no possibility of me passing bills without interacting with him," she said. Cornish, a former police officer, once pushed her against a wall and tried to kiss her, Walker said, and another time stood up and told her he had an erection.

Samantha Spawn, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, said she was sexually assaulted this year by a statehouse staff member whom she had considered a friendly acquaintance. After a party at the end of the legislative session in Pierre, the staff member persuaded her to let him stay in her hotel room, saying he was too drunk to leave. She reluctantly agreed and went to bed fully clothed, but he physically overcame her and raped her, she said.

After the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein broke in October, Spawn decided to speak about her assault in the media. She has not named her assailant.

"There's no mechanism in the statehouse that I'm aware of for lobbyists to report harassment or assault, other than going to legislative leadership," she said. "But they're Republican men. No one in South Dakota is going to have sympathy for the NARAL lobbyist."

Work outside the capitol

In states like Wisconsin, lobbyists are forbidden from spending money on lawmakers. That tamps down on evening socializing and extravagant dinners that can feel transactional.

"We can't even give a legislator a pen in Wisconsin," said Amy Bliss, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Housing Alliance in Madison. "So we certainly can't buy them a drink."

But in most other states, the rules are far looser, if they exist at all.

When Marilyn Rodriguez was 25 and a new lobbyist in Arizona, she found herself unable to get Rep. Don Shooter, a powerful committee chairman, to pay attention to an issue in his office. He recommended they go for a drink to discuss the matter, Rodriquez said. Once at the restaurant, "He reached over and gripped my knee," Rodriguez, who was shocked, recalled. For the next two years, she avoided speaking to him, which made her less effective at her job. "Every time I saw him I felt ashamed," she said.

Shooter, 65, has been suspended from his committee chairmanship and is being investigated by the Arizona House after nine women, including Rodriguez and three female lawmakers, complained of harassment. Shooter did not respond to a request for comment.

Some women who spend time in statehouses say their only recourse is to confide in their own bosses, if they have them. Kady McFadden, deputy director of the Sierra Club in Illinois, said she had endured lawmakers' putting their hands up her skirt, running their fingers through her hair and giving it a flirtatious tug. She tells her supervisor every time something happens.

McFadden, who is not a registered lobbyist but runs the chapter's political work, said the harassment was a symptom of a system that devalued women at every turn.

"As important as it is to change the culture of sexual harassment, at the end of the day, this is about so much more," she said. "Men are leading our state governments, men are leading our corporations, men are leading our media organizations. This is about the ability of women and particularly women of color to be in leadership positions and be able to do their jobs."

After brief chase, car damages multiple trooper vehicles on the Glenn Highway

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 19:07

A car damaged two Alaska State Troopers vehicles after a brief chase on the Glenn Highway on Friday evening, troopers said.

The collision, at Mile 34 of the Glenn Highway, happened near the Wasilla and Palmer interchange, said troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain.

"There doesn't appear to be any serious injuries but obviously traffic is going to be tied up there," DeSpain said. Anchorage police said all lanes of the Glenn had reopened by 6 p.m.

The incident started when troopers spotted the car traveling fast from the Old Glenn onto the Glenn Highway, heading toward Anchorage. Troopers warned Anchorage police that the vehicle was headed their way, DeSpain said.

But then the car turned around, pulling into one of the median crossovers, and started heading back toward Palmer. A trooper "engaged in a pursuit at that point," DeSpain said, but as the car sped up, the trooper backed off.

Meanwhile, more troopers were waiting at another median, getting ready to deploy spike strips. The car crashed, damaging two vehicles. DeSpain wasn't sure whether the driver had hit two cars, or if one of the trooper vehicles had smashed into the second one when hit.

The driver has been detained, DeSpain said.

West girls put 5 skiers in top 10 on 1st day of at Lynx Loppet races

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 19:03

The West girls ski team has the rest of the field playing catch-up after the first day of Lynx Loppet nordic ski races Friday at Kincaid Park.

West's Molly Gellert won the girls 5-kilometer classic race in 15 minutes, 49.6 seconds to pace five Eagles in the top 10.

Service's Gus Schumacher won the boys race in 12:34.7. Second-place Ti Donaldson of West Valley finished more than a minute behind Schumacher in 13:40.5.

The other West girls in the top 10 were Aubrey LeClair (2nd, 16:06.5), Quincy Donley (6th, 16:34.4), Ellie Mitchell (8th, 16:59.6) and Ivy Eski (10th, 17:12.0). The Eagles' combined time of 1:05:30.1 is more than five minutes faster than Chugiak at 1:10:37.5.

On the boys side, Service leads West Valley by 35.4 seconds with a 56:51.4.

Eleven teams and 131 skiers competed in Friday's A races.

The Lynx Loppet continues Saturday with freestyle pursuit races based on Friday's finishes.

Lynx Loppet
Friday's 5-kilometer classic

Boys A

Team

1) Service 56:51.4
2) West Valley 57:26.8
3) West 58:24.2
4) Chugiak 58:31.2
5) Dimond 59:08.2
6) Soldotna 59:14.7
7) South 1:01:01.9
8) Grace 1:03:02.3
9) Colony 1:10:18.6,
10) Eagle River 1:10:38.4

Individual

1) Gus Schumacher, Service, 12:34.7
2) Ti Donaldson, West Valley, 13:40.5
3) Eli Hermanson, Service, 13:46.6
4) Zanden McMullen, South, 13:54.9
5) Miles Dennis, Chugiak, 14:08.4
6) Karl Danielson, Kenai, 14:15.0
7) Rhys Yates, West Valley, 14:16.4
8) John-Mark Pothast, Soldotna, 14:22.8
9) Koby Vinson, Soldotna, 14:28.3
10) Bryce Pintner, Dimond, 14:28.7
11) Jeremy Kupferschmid, Soldotna, 14:30.6
12) Micah Barber, Dimond, 14:31.5
13) Everett Cason, West, 14:33.9
14) Ari Endestad, West Valley, 14:34.3
15) Maxime Germain, West, 14:35.9
16) Max Beiergrohslein, Chugiak, 14:36.1
17) Noah Ravens, West, 14:36.9
18) Sam York, West, 14:37.5
19) Luke Fritzel, Grace, 14:46.3
20) Kai Meyers, South, 14:48.1
21) Michael Earnhart, Chugiak, 14:49.1
22) George Cvancara, Dimond, 14:53.0
23) Joseph Walling, Palmer, 14:55.1
24) Alexander Maurer, Service, 14:55.5
25) Jack Cater, West Valley, 14:55.6
26) Thomas Bueler, West Valley, 14:56.2
27) Sean Clapp, South, 14:56.9
28) Torsten Renner, Chugiak, 14:57.6
29) Avi Johnson, Grace, 15:02.1
30) Aaron Maves, West, 15:08.7
31) Peter Hinds, Dimond, 15:15.0
32) Konrad Renner, Chugiak, 15:20.2
33) Dale Baurick, West Valley, 15:25.3
34) Richard Gordon-Rein, West, 15:32.3
35) Parker Stoltz, West Valley, 15:33.6
36) Joel Power, Service, 15:34.6
37) Nick Carl, Eagle River, 15:35.5
38) Keleman Legate, West, 15:51.6
39) Joshua Shuler, Soldotna, 15:53.0
40) Kaden Denton, Dimond, 16:14.7
41) Aiden Gannon, Grace, 16:15.5
42) Hayden Ulbrich, Service, 16:22.9
43) Elic Cowan, Colony, 16:23.3
44) Sean Swalling, Dimond, 16:23.8
45) Luke Howe, East, 16:31.6
46) Brian Wing, Chugiak, 16:37.9
47) Joshua Bierma, Service, 16:41.3
48) Jacob Tyler Davis, Homer, 16:49.0
49) Jode Sparks, Soldotna, 16:53.6
50) Cole Fritzel, Grace, 16:58.4
51) Caleb Frederick Rauch, Homer, 16:59.3
52) Matthew Terry, Service, 16:59.7
53) Wyatt Barrett, South, 17:22.0
54) Nathan Kristich, Colony, 17:28.3
55) Curtis Bay, Eagle River, 17:41.2
56) Jaxson R Lee, Palmer, 17:42.4
57) Jared Haberman, South, 17:43.3
58) Calum Colver, Colony, 17:49.4
59) Alex Carl, Eagle River, 17:53.0
60) Aden Rothmeyer, South, 17:55.6
61) Kaj Taylor, Palmer, 18:07.8
62) Daniel Desaulniers, South, 18:16.2
63) Joshua Taylor, Colony, 18:37.6
64) Christian Baldridge, Eagle River, 19:28.7

Girls A

Team

1) West 1:05:30.1
2) Chugiak 1:10:37.5
3) Service 1:11:19.5
4) West Valley 1:11:30.1
5) South 1:13:54.6
6) Colony 1:17:21.0
7) Eagle River 1:18:58.5
8) Dimond 1:21:54.3
9) Palmer 1:24:50.7
10) Homer 1:45:41.8

Individual

1) Molly Gellert, West, 15:49.6
2) Aubrey LeClair, West, 16:06.5
3) Kendall Kramer, West Valley, 16:12.4
4) Helen Wilson, Eagle River, 16:20.4
5) Heidi Booher, Chugiak, 16:26.2
6) Quincy Donley, West, 16:34.4
7) Annika Hannestadt, Colony, 16:35.4
8) Ellie Mitchell, West, 16:59.6
9) Garvee Tobin, Service, 17:10.5
10) Ivy Eski, West, 17:12.0
11) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak, 17:13.3
12) Maggie Druckenmiller, West Valley, 17:13.9
13) Emma Nelson, Chugiak, 17:18.4
14) Caitlin Gohr, Service, 17:32.7
15) Addison Gibson, Kenai, 17:42.2
16) Grace Gilliland, South, 17:53.4
17) Maja Lapkass, West, 18:00.7
18) Maya Brubaker, Service, 18:04.5
19) Maggie Meeds, South, 18:05.1
20) Zoe Ratzlaff, West Valley, 18:22.8
21) Avery Mozen, West, 18:30.9
22) Adeline Wright, Service, 18:31.8
23) Alyson Kopsack, Colony, 18:45.2
24) Charlee Demientieff, Grace, 18:46.1
25) Kaylee Heck, South, 18:54.3
26) Sophia Cvancara, Dimond, 18:55.4
27) Maria Cvancara, Dimond, 18:58.2
28) Abby Amick, South, 19:01.8
29) Nadia Dworian, Service, 19:06.7
30) Elizabeth Kilby, South, 19:14.6
31) Aila Berrigan, Palmer, 19:25.3
32) Sarah Freeman, East, 19:36.8
33) Tatum Witter, Service, 19:37.7
34) Sofija Spaic, Colony, 19:39.0
35) Breanna Day, Chugiak, 19:39.6
36) Mallory Presler, West Valley, 19:41.0
37) Hannah Armbrust, South, 19:55.1
38) Emily Walsh, Eagle River, 20:02.9
39) Kellie Arthur, Soldotna, 20:04.7
40) Autumn Grace Daigle, Homer, 20:09.8
41) Hanna Wuttig, West Valley, 20:18.6
42) Sonora Martin, Soldotna, 20:34.7
43) Amy Baxter, Palmer, 20:35.7
44) Myah Smith, Eagle River, 20:36.7
45) Eloise Darrow, West Valley, 20:42.3
46) Olive Heatwole, South, 20:46.1
47) Sophie Ruth Wright, Palmer, 21:32.4
48) Cameron Blackwell, Soldotna, 21:34.3
49) Lindsey Gerlach, Chugiak, 21:36.1
50) Katelyn Marie Davis, Homer, 21:39.9
51) Hannah Cryder, Chugiak, 21:52.6
51) Maria Salzetti, Kenai, 21:52.6
53) Claire Nelson, Eagle River, 21:58.5
54) Milai Gilbert, Dimond, 21:58.8
55) Abigail Luiken, Dimond, 22:01.9
56) Zoe Margaret Stonorov, Homer, 22:07.0
57) Kate Baring, West Valley, 22:14.2
58) Nicole Bell, Colony, 22:21.4
59) Ashley Walsh, Eagle River, 22:21.8
60) Zoe T Copp, Palmer, 23:17.3
61) Ocean Tennant-McCubbin, Palmer, 23:38.9
62) Caitlin Fueg, Chugiak, 23:41.3
63) Quincy Smith, Dimond, 23:42.7
64) Shelby Kelliher, Dimond, 23:48.3
65) Megan Penman, Dimond, 25:21.6
66) Ariana O'Harra, East, 25:22.3
67) Brita Jane Restad, Homer, 41:45.1

A visit from Santa brings hope to a Western Alaska village

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:56

ST. MICHAEL — It would be hours before the sun rose over the treeless hills Tuesday in Saint Michael, a Yup'ik village of just over 400 people on the edge of the Bering Sea. Most of the community was fast asleep.

More than 400 miles to the southeast, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, a group of volunteers and national guardsmen were busy loading ice cream, presents and Santa into an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130 Combat King II airplane. Soon Mr. and Mrs. Claus would be on their way to the village as part of Operation Santa Claus, a humanitarian mission started by the National Guard in 1956.

Sixty-one years later, Operation Santa Claus is now a collaboration between the National Guard, Salvation Army, Tastee Freeze, Costco and the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Each year the group visits two rural Alaska villages, delivering school supplies, presents and, perhaps most importantly, it brings the community together, spreading much-needed holiday cheer.

Daily life in Saint Michael revolves around subsistence activities, and with the changing seasons come different foods. December is a time to hunt reindeer and fish for tomcod, according to village elders Alice Fitka and Virginia Washington. In the fall, hunters harvest seal and beluga whale, and women pick berries. Spring is when they pick sweet onions that grow in the lakes, and summer is a time for fishing and gathering clams and sea urchins.

There aren't many wage-earning jobs in the community. The median household income in Saint Michael is $27,222 for a family of four, according to the Alaska State Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. That kind of money doesn't go very far in a place where the cost of heating oil can reach $300 a month, water and sewer is $250, and a gallon of gas is over $6. A bag of potato chips at the village store runs $10.

"It's hard to get by," said Saint Michael city clerk Richard Elachik Sr. "Even those of us that work have a hard time. We live off subsistence more than store-bought food." Housing is also tight in the community. In 2010 Elachik lived with 20 people in a four-bedroom home. Today he and his wife live with six children in a two-bedroom rental.

The struggle of making ends meet in a remote town with few jobs has taken a heavy toll, with many residents turning to alcohol and marijuana to cope. "Right now we are battling with the silent problem of homebrew and marijuana," said Virginia Washington, a village elder originally from Emmonak who married into the community in 1978. "I've been battling with homebrew from my adult children, and I'm not going to be ashamed to speak about it."

"Homebrew is a problem in Saint Michael," said Elachik, "and it's been getting worse. We saw our parents do it, and now we are their age."

Anthony A. Andrews School Principal Jon Wehde sees the effect that alcohol abuse is having on the children. "We will occasionally have a child reference homebrew," he said. "The tribal government is diligent with persistent intervention activities. This tells me that there is a need. It's an acute need."

With alcohol abuse comes other familiar problems. Domestic violence is enough of a concern that the community has developed a network of safe houses, distributed throughout the village so that one is always within walking distance. "The safe houses play a very critical role," said principal Wehde, who noted that there is no ambulance service and limited law enforcement presence.

The school provides breakfast and lunch for all their students, and the tribal agency offers regular evening meals. But even so, sometimes there's not enough food to go around. "I'm speaking from the Third World poverty level, which I'm living right now," said Washington. "It's kind of scary to see your own grandchildren hungry. So many times me and my husband don't eat so that our grandchildren can eat."

Saint Michael's problems with poverty and substance abuse have put strains on the community. "People nowadays aren't working together like they used to," said Elachik. "We used to gather for Christmas, Thanksgiving. Today families are fighting each other. This community needs to gather together more."

Operation Santa Claus last visited Saint Michael in 2003, and then, like now, nearly the entire community came together to take photos with Santa and open presents. "There's nothing more electric than singing 'Jingle Bells' and waiting for the big elf to come through the door," said principal Wehde, who has spent 30 years working in rural Alaska schools. "For the kids in a rural community in Alaska, to have an event like that lets them know that they are connected to a state that cares. They have an immediate sense of belonging."

"Everyone was waiting for it to come," said Elachik. "It was good to see the little kids and elders together."

Togetherness is what Virginia Washington is wishing for this Christmas. "I would really like peace in my home," she said. "I would rather have a peaceful, sober dinner on the table, where everybody is sober and well.

"That's my Christmas wish list," she said.

OneProtest responds to commentaries

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:39

Three OneProtest volunteers gave testimony at the Board of Game meeting in Anchorage recently. All three spoke in support of a single proposal. The proposal was to completely ban the hunting of bear cubs and sows with cubs in Alaska. They were not all from Florida. One member of our team was an Anchorage resident, one of the many that supported our proposal. The other two volunteers flew in to support her.

We are against the hunting of bear cubs!

We did not withdraw our proposal. It was not retracted. It was submitted, deliberated and ultimately the Board voted against it. We did amend our proposal with additional information as our understanding evolved. We spoke with the Board of Game members. They were courteous, helpful and open to feedback. In addition, we had discussions with advisory council representatives, elders and many others. They all said the same thing – they are not hunting bear cubs.

[Florida protesters schooled in Native ways at Alaska Board of Game meeting]

The apology was not offered for our proposal. Our apology was for any offense our initial misunderstanding may have caused the Native peoples. The Alaskan Administrative code 92.260 does sanction the killing bear cubs. The Board of Game voted to keep it as is. Although that would make for a sensational headline in national papers, it would be misleading. The people we spoke with were shocked and appalled at the accusation. It was not just the twenty students mentioned in the prior article. A great number of representatives traveled and testified, many for the first time, to clarify for us and the rest of the world. They are not hunting bear cubs. Regardless of what the administrative code may say, that is not part of their tradition and culture.

The intensive management and predator control program as a whole is a much larger issue. We understand there are other groups actively opposing this program and we commend their efforts, as science is clearly on their side. Our proposal was focused solely on bear cubs.

We strongly encourage everyone to watch the two-minute video and read our own article (www.stopcubhunting.org) for a full explanation. In addition, feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions at adams@oneprotest.org.

Adam Sugalski is executive director of OneProtest, an animal advocacy group based in Jacksonville, Fla.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Alaska House leaders, head of Democratic Party, call for Rep. Westlake’s resignation after report details alleged unwanted advances

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:29

Alaska Democratic leaders said Friday that Kiana Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake should resign in the wake of an Anchorage Daily News report in which seven current and former aides at the Capitol described Westlake making unwanted sexual comments and physical contact.

Both House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Alaska Democratic Party Chair Casey Steinau, issued statements Friday afternoon calling on Westlake to step down.

Steinau said Westlake should resign "immediately," adding that "the allegations against Rep. Westlake, as detailed in today's Anchorage Daily News, are serious and this behavior cannot be tolerated."

[Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

Steinau's statement came moments after a similar message was issued by leaders of Westlake's largely-Democratic House majority.

"We take very seriously our obligation to ensure everyone who works in the Capitol feels safe and respected," Edgmon said. "In light of recent reports of inappropriate behavior related to his position in the Legislature, House leadership believes Rep. Dean Westlake should resign from the office his constituents sent him to Juneau to represent. This is an extremely difficult decision to make, but it is a necessary decision."

Another member of Westlake's majority, Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn, endorsed Edgmon's message on Twitter, writing: "I 100 percent agree with this decision."

I 100% agree with this decision. https://t.co/LwTjlX4wRu

— Rep Jason Grenn (@RepJasonGrenn) December 9, 2017

Westlake didn't immediately respond to a phone message Friday afternoon.

He issued a written apology Thursday after one former legislative aide went public with allegations against him. But he hasn't directly addressed the six other aides who worked at the Capitol this year who described unwanted physical contact and inappropriate comments in an Anchorage Daily News report published Friday.

"I can't discuss the recent allegations made against me because it is a confidential personnel matter," Westlake said in his statement Thursday. "I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent."

[Sen. Wilson says unreleased video shows he didn't harass Capitol worker]

Westlake's largely-Democratic majority claims 22 members in the 40-member House. If he steps down, his caucus would be left with 21 – the bare minimum to maintain its majority.

Alaska Democrats provided financial and political support to Westlake in his bid for his House seat last year. He narrowly beat the incumbent Democrat, Ben Nageak of Utqiaġvik, who provoked the party's attempt to unseat him by having joined the largely-Republican House majority.

Alaska House Leaders Ask Lawmaker to Resign Amid Complaints - U.S. News & World Report

Juneau Hot Topics - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:29

U.S. News & World Report

Alaska House Leaders Ask Lawmaker to Resign Amid Complaints
U.S. News & World Report
Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue, talks with another legislator during a break in the opening session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau, Alaska. An Alaska state representative accused of inappropriate behavior by a former legislative aide says he apologizes ...
Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and commentsAlaska Dispatch News
Alaska House speaker calls for Westlake's resignation amid harassment claimsFairbanks Daily News-Miner
'He should resign. It's that simple.' Woman who says she was groped by Alaska lawmaker says apology is not enoughKTUU.com

all 13 news articles »

Sen. Wilson says unreleased video shows he didn’t harass Capitol worker

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:27

Wasilla Republican Senator David Wilson said Thursday that the video of a June incident shows that he did not sexually harass a female legislative staff member.

"My phone is off. It never leaves the waist side. It goes from my hand — I'm holding papers — down, comes back up," he said. "I never bend down, it does not go to the door, it does not go between anyone's legs. I can guarantee you that shows very clearly on the video. I am a couple of – great distance away from anybody during that conversation that occurred."

Two news reporters have said Wilson held his cell phone between the legs of the staffer.

Wilson was speaking at a press conference he put together, and called for an on-air apology from KTVA for reporter Liz Raines' coverage of the incident.

And he called on House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, and House Rules Chairwoman Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican, to step down from their leadership positions.

"Allegations are being reproduced as facts and lives are being put in jeopardy without a hearing, due process or evidence," Wilson said. "I hope we can give people the benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment. I have continuously denied these appalling allegations that are being peddled about me. It did not happen."

Wilson said a staff member of the Legislative Affairs Agency told Edgmon what was on the video. Wilson said Edgmon then allowed harassment allegations to continue without asking for an investigation.

Edgmon responded in a written statement: "Sen. Wilson crossed the line of appropriate behavior by using a press conference to chastise individuals who came forward as witnesses to an alleged incident of harassment."

Edgmon said he believes it violates the Legislature's harassment policy and warrants a serious investigation by the Senate.

Edgmon also said Wilson's statement about why Edgmon chose to allow the matter to rest is false. Edgmon said he couldn't both pursue the matter and respect the staff member's wishes to keep it private and not politicized.

Wilson said the agency has concluded an investigation. He called for the video as well as the report on the investigation to be publicly released in the next week.

Legislative rules say security video may not be released to the public. Senate President Pete Kelly has asked the Senate Rules Committee to hold a hearing to consider releasing the report.

Wilson spoke at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. An hour and a half later, the Legislative Council subcommittee on sexual and other workplace harassment policy met.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon said people who make harassment complaints should be updated on how their complaints are being handled.

"People who make complaints don't know whether their superiors have actually acted on their behalf,"  MacKinnon said.

Other subcommittee members say the policy should spell out potential consequences for both lawmakers and legislative employees for harassment.

The subcommittee is expected to recommend changes to the policy before the next legislative session.

This story was originally published by KTOO Public Media and is reprinted here with permission. 

Shop Talk: KPB Architects’ strategy on chasing the right projects in a downturn

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:16

This is an installment of Shop Talk, an occasional series of interviews with business owners in Alaska, focusing on the state economy and how it is affecting them.

You've probably noticed KPB Architects' design work around Anchorage. Williwaw, Rustic Goat and Cabela's are just a few of the firm's projects. KPB, which has 17 employees and has been in business for 35 years, also has ongoing contracts with the federal government, Providence Alaska Medical Center and Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

In KPB Architects' sleek office space at Fifth Avenue and L Street, co-owner Mike Prozeralik and marketing director Kate Hostetler talked to the Anchorage Daily News about how Alaska's recession has been affecting their industry.

Can you talk a bit about what sort of impact you're seeing from this economic downturn on your company? What has it meant for you?

Prozeralik: With the contracts that we have … we've still continued to do work, design work. We're fortunate to have those. And it's really helped us with certain things, keeping people busy. Unlike some of my competitors — they've either laid people off, they've downsized. We had a firm, I think, this year that actually closed their doors. But then I'm seeing small little startups. … Competition hasn't died. It's just changed. For us, we've actually brought on staff.

I think with a lot of the public sector work, obviously, the state's not funding a lot of those projects. So that market has dwindled. I wouldn't say it's dried up. There's still stuff that is going on. … (Businesses) are just waiting for the state to make a decision, do a few things, and then I think the floodgates will open up.

I imagine it's tougher to get contracts in a time like this. How do you manage to compete?

Prozeralik: There's (requests for proposals) that come out, and then we're putting together our qualification package and submitting those. We're finding that before, where there might have been six or eight (others to compete with) — I mean, we just submitted one yesterday — 14 firms. Small business firms. It was a military project, but there were 14 submittals. Unheard of. Usually, half a dozen.

There's firms out there that are looking for work and some of them, I think, are now expanding into markets where they typically or traditionally had not worked in. It's part of the economy here. You have to be diverse. With 35 years of being here, we have a strong history in all markets. We're just kind of picking and choosing now what we want to chase. We can't go after everything, don't really necessarily need to go after everything. Just need to find the right clients and the right projects.

It sounds like maybe in some ways you're being more selective, but it also doesn't seem like a time when you could afford to do that. So how have you been adapting to this economic climate?

Prozeralik: Well, one of the things, how we adapted — we hired a director of marketing.

Hostetler: We're really formulating and concentrating on more of a strategy. Because there is some overhead cost with chasing proposals. But with that comes the strategy.

What is that strategy?

Hostetler: Basically, picking the opportunities we want to propose on, really finding those projects that mesh with our culture and with our business plan.

Prozeralik: We've done a number of (Alaska Native corporation) projects. A lot of the local ANC organizations, they have a little bit of residual cash, they have some money, they have a need. … We sit down and look at, strategically, OK, who's the competition, what sets us apart. … That helps us formulate either a "go" or "no go." This all takes time, costs money, basically overhead to bring that work in.

Hostetler: Performing a cost-benefit analysis.

Looking to the future, what are some of your biggest concerns?

Prozeralik: One of the reasons why we decided after seven years of not having somebody in marketing/business development that it was time, is because I can see two, three, four years down the road, the F-35 thing starting to drop off, other things starting to drop off. So I need to start looking now, start developing relationships with other clients that we can start backfilling over time. Developing relationships, and then in a couple years, I think everybody has an expectation, the state's going to get itself out of this (budget deficit), things are going to start to change. There's going to be either new lines of revenue coming into the state, new opportunities. We just want to be ready for those to happen.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Alaska House leaders ask lawmaker to resign amid complaints - Kansas City Star

Legislative News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:02

Kansas City Star

Alaska House leaders ask lawmaker to resign amid complaints
Kansas City Star
She told the AP that she came forward, in part, because "institutions like the Alaska Legislature don't change without public pressure." She said Tuck gave her specific instructions for language in the letter, including a sentence in which she asked ...
Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted ...Alaska Dispatch News
'He should resign. It's that simple.' Woman who says she was groped ...KTUU.com
House Majority calls on Dean Westlake to resign amid sexual harassment allegationsAlaska Public Radio Network
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
all 13 news articles »

Alaska House leaders seek lawmaker ouster amid complaints - Wichita Eagle

Legislative News - Fri, 2017-12-08 18:00

Wichita Eagle

Alaska House leaders seek lawmaker ouster amid complaints
Wichita Eagle
She told the AP that she came forward, in part, because "institutions like the Alaska Legislature don't change without public pressure." She said Tuck gave her specific instructions for language in the letter, including a sentence in which she asked ...
Alaska House Leaders Ask Lawmaker to Resign Amid ComplaintsU.S. News & World Report
Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and commentsAlaska Dispatch News
House Majority calls on Dean Westlake to resign amid sexual harassment allegationsAlaska Public Radio Network
KTUU.com -Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
all 13 news articles »

Officials warn of low visibility as dense fog settles over Anchorage

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 17:44

Dense fog rolled in over Anchorage on Friday, prompting a warning about low visibility from the National Weather Service.

Areas of dense fog will remain in the Anchorage bowl through Saturday morning, the National Weather Service said in a winter weather advisory.

Visibility will drop to a quarter mile, or less, the agency said, which can cause "very difficult driving conditions."

"Slow down, use your headlights, and leave plenty of distance ahead of you," the warning said.

The advisory comes after rain, freezing rain and black ice contributed to dangerous road and sidewalk conditions earlier Friday.

On Friday evening, difficult driving conditions were noted for many major roads in Anchorage and Eagle River, including the Glenn Highway up to Eklutna, and the Seward Highway to roughly mile 105, according to the state's 511 website.

The fog is expected to lift by Saturday afternoon. Starting Sunday, a chance of snow is in the forecast through Thursday next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Alaska House leaders, head of Democratic Party call for Westlake's resignation - Alaska Dispatch News

Legislative News - Fri, 2017-12-08 17:16

Alaska Dispatch News

Alaska House leaders, head of Democratic Party call for Westlake's resignation
Alaska Dispatch News
Wildlife · Science · Rural Alaska · Education · Aviation · Mat-Su · Fairbanks · Anchorage · Military · Weather · Crime & Courts · Alaska Life · We Alaskans · Pets · Gardening · Food and Drink · Travel · Advice · Alaska Marijuana News · Arts and ...
Alaska House leaders ask lawmaker to resign amid complaintsMiami Herald

all 13 news articles »

Federal jury convicts Washington man who smuggled meth and heroin into Southeast Alaska

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 15:58

A Washington man faces up to 40 years in prison for his role in smuggling heroin and methamphetamine into two Southeast Alaska communities.

On Wednesday, Zerisenay Gebregiorgis, 35, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine, and to possess the drugs with intent to distribute in both Ketchikan and Sitka, the U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska said in a written statement Friday.

In the summer of 2016, Gebregiorgis planned to distribute "large quantities" of the drugs. He "directed every aspect of the conspiracy," the statement said.

Gebregiorgis was arrested in August 2016 after police learned through an anonymous tip that he was the source of drugs being sold in Ketchikan.

Gebregiorgis, who was called "Bullet," was part of a group of people from Washington who had been flying to Sitka, police learned. He was said to "be selling and at the time giving away gram amounts of heroin to persuade the local addicts to buy from him in the future," an affidavit in the case said.

Gebregiorgis arranged for the meth and heroin to be smuggled from Seattle to Ketchikan by "means of female couriers," the affidavit said, and he would pay for the women's flights.

The couriers carried the heroin and meth "inside their bodies," Friday's statement said. Once they reached Ketchikan and Sitka, another group of people would distribute the drugs.

Drug money was then given to the couriers, who carried it back to Seattle, where the money was delivered to Gebregiorgis, according to federal prosecutors.

Gebregiorgis trafficked at least 100 grams of heroin and up to 50 grams of meth, the written statement said.

In September 2016, while out on bail, Gebregiorgis was arrested at the Ketchikan International Airport as he tried to board a plane out of state, Alaska State Troopers said at the time.

Gebregiorgis will be sentenced March 5. He faces between five and 40 years in prison and up to $5 million in fines.

Buzzer-beater sends UAA men to overtime and a Shootout victory

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 15:22

Maleke Haynes is turning into Mr. Clutch for the UAA men's basketball team.

The senior guard from Los Angeles made his case for shot-of-the-season on Thursday when he nailed a 35-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the game and send the Seawolves into overtime in a Great Alaska Shootout game against Santa Clara at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The Seawolves went on to win the game 78-73 in overtime for UAA's 39th all-time win in the Shootout. They'll have a chance to try for win No. 40 when they play Charleston at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Shootout's fourth-place game.

With just 4.3 seconds left on the clock, Haynes received the inbounds pass from teammate D.J. Ursery, dribbled down court and launched a running 3-pointer from well behind the 3-point line. The shot rattled in to tie the score at 66-66 and teammate Jacob Lampkin lifted Haynes into the air as their teammates rushed the court to celebrate.

THE SHOT GOES AT THE BUZZER FOR MELEKE HAYNES AND THE SEAWOLVES!!! WE'RE HEADING TO OVERTIME!!! #GreatAKshootout pic.twitter.com/vjeuZ10vYB

— GreatAKShootout (@GreatAKShootout) November 24, 2017

"Coach drew up a play we call triangle," Haynes said. "D.J. was taking it out (and) whoever got open was gonna pretty much take the shot, I just happen to get open."

Haynes' buzzer beater was his second late-game 3-pointer for UAA so far this season. In UAA's regular-season opener against NAIA Antelope Valley earlier this month, Haynes sank a game-winning triple with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Haynes and Lampkin, two former teammates from Division I University of the Pacific, led UAA with 22 points apiece against Santa Clara.

Haynes went 4 of 8 from beyond the arc to provide a shooting touch that UAA has lacked so far this season and Lampkin pulled down 11 rebounds for a double-double.

UAA coach Rusty Osborne said the Seawolves (4-3) finally showed trust their offensive system in the Thanksgiving-day win. UAA entered the game coming its worst scoring performance at home in program history in a 59-39 loss to Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday.

"We were able to move the ball and execute some of our set plays," said Osborne, who has 12 new players on his roster this season. "We also executed a few little things that we drew up in the huddle in special situations."

Haynes and Lampkin came up big in overtime with 10 of UAA's 12 points in the period. Haynes got all four of his at the free-throw line and Lampkin's six points included a dunk that put UAA up 74-71.

UAA's final two points came from senior guard Malik Clements, who stole the ball in the final second with UAA leading by three and proceeded to make his two free throws.

"We got shots at the right moments and we were able to come away with a big 3," Clements said. "We just have a never give up mentality."

Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 15:20

Seven women who are current or former aides at the Alaska Capitol say a member of the state House of Representatives repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward them or otherwise behaved inappropriately during this year's legislative sessions.

The women described the behavior in interviews with the Anchorage Daily News this week after one of them went public and recounted, in a letter to legislative leaders, unwanted touching and sexual comments by first-term Rep. Dean Westlake.

Westlake, a Democrat from the village of Kiana, near Kotzebue, issued a written apology Thursday.

"I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent," the statement said.

Olivia Garrett, who worked for Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki this year, wrote to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, in March, detailing Westlake's behavior. She no longer works for the Legislature.

In one instance, she said, Westlake touched her and made a sexual comment. Another time, she said, he grabbed her inappropriately. Garrett, 23, said she released her letter this week because she felt the lawmakers' responses were insufficient.

Garrett's description of her interactions with Westlake parallels those of six other female aides interviewed by the Daily News this week.

Those staffers asked not to be identified out of fear of attracting attention to themselves in jobs in which discretion is prized. They described Westlake giving lingering hugs, making sexual comments, asking for dates and touching them inappropriately.

The incidents described were often witnessed by others and, some women said, are examples of a type of sexualized behavior that frequently goes unchecked in Juneau. Westlake was not the only person in and around the Legislature whose behavior they considered inappropriate for a workplace, they said.

[Contact reporters Nathaniel Herz and Julia O'Malley]

Most of the women said they did not formally report Westlake's behavior when it happened, citing the social and political pressures that come with working in Juneau.

Garrett and one of the other aides said they filed reports with the Legislature's human resources manager later on, after hearing other women describe Westlake's conduct.

Westlake's behavior continued after Garrett's letter to House leadership, according to the women. Four described encounters that took place afterward.

Edgmon, in a phone interview, wouldn't address the specifics of the incidents that Garrett described or the House's response to complaints. But after being told of the other women's accounts, he said he was "shocked" to see so many.

"I am committed, in the future, to changing the environment so that anyone who feels they've been violated can come forward in a way that allows them to be heard and allows them to feel safe in the workplace – and not be in a position of being retaliated against," Edgmon said. "If there's a takeaway for me, it's: Why is it that a lot of these women felt that they couldn't, or perhaps didn't, want to come forward in the past?"

Edgmon said their claims should be investigated, but he added that Westlake deserves "due process."

The Alaska Legislature's employee handbook for staffers says sexual harassment includes "unwelcome sexual advances" and "requests for sexual favors." It also includes verbal, physical or visual conduct "of a sexual nature," made when submitting to that conduct is an explicit or implicit condition of employment or when it creates a hostile work environment.

Managers and supervisors who witness or are aware of harassment must take action to stop the behavior and to report the alleged harassment, the handbook says.

There have been 22 investigations since the Legislature's harassment policy was adopted in 2000. Half were for sexual harassment, said Skiff Lobaugh, the Legislature's human resources manager.

Lawmakers from both the House and Senate this week held an organizational meeting for a subcommittee charged with updating the policy.

Legislative leaders have tasked the subcommittee with drafting recommendations to a full committee of House members and senators before the start of the legislative session in January.

Westlake, 57, is not married. He recently underwent heart surgery out of state and is now recovering in Alaska, an aide said.

He is finishing the first year of his first term, and is one of 22 majority members, most of them Democrats, in the 40-member House.

Last year, Westlake drew financial and political support from the Alaska Democratic Party in his primary campaign against the incumbent Democrat in the huge, northernmost state House district, which sweeps across much of Alaska's Arctic. The incumbent Democrat, Ben Nageak, was part of the largely Republican majority, which relegated the state House's urban Democrats to the minority.

Those urban Democrats, and party leaders, subsequently helped Westlake to a win so narrow that the Alaska Supreme Court had to reverse a lower court decision giving the seat to Nageak.

'We pass these policies …'

None of the women interviewed worked directly for Westlake. But in the Capitol it is common for staffers to change offices between sessions, they said, depending on whether their bosses are re-elected.

Many of the women worried that speaking publicly about Westlake would damage their reputations and make it harder to get work from other elected officials in the future.

Some described their encounters with Westlake as growing out of a Juneau culture that has few boundaries between work and after-hours social events.

One female aide in her early 30s said she was in a meeting around the beginning of this year's legislative session, which started in January. She was with her boss, who is a legislator, along with Westlake and one of his aides.

The aide said she was sitting on a couch next to Westlake when he put his hand on her leg. She said she brushed it off and moved away, and hasn't had another incident with Westlake since then.

A second aide said she was working at a committee hearing in April when Westlake asked her to pass a note to her boss, another legislator.

After the meeting, her boss showed her the handwritten message, stressing that he disapproved: Westlake had asked her boss to let her know that she "looked really good" in the dress she was wearing, she said.

Westlake repeated that comment directly to the aide in the hallway later that day, she said. After that, the aide said, she avoided Westlake.

A third staffer said she was wearing a button-up shirt, a skirt and leggings on a warm spring day in Juneau. When she approached Westlake, who was standing with another lawmaker, he asked how legislators were supposed to get any work done when staff members were dressed "like that."

The aide, who's in her early 20s, said Westlake referred to her at different times as "honey," "sweetheart" and "baby."

A fourth aide, in her mid-20s, said Westlake often tried to hug her in a way that was "too much" and told her she looked "beautiful."

A fifth aide at the Capitol, who's in her 30s, said that Westlake, several times, gave her "lingering" hugs that felt inappropriate and asked her on dates. After a fourth incident, the aide said, she told Westlake he was making her uncomfortable, and the advances stopped.

A sixth female legislative aide, in her 20s, said Westlake three times said things or touched her in a way that made her uncomfortable.

Asked about the specific behavior described by the women, an aide to Westlake referred reporters to the legislator's statement issued Thursday.

Garrett said her first incident with Westlake happened at a political fundraiser at a museum across the street from the Capitol, the night before the legislative session began in January.

Garrett was walking past Westlake in a hallway when, she said, he grabbed her arm, then told her that her hair "turned him on."

She said the comment and contact surprised her. She walked away before she could think of how to respond, she said.

Two months later, Garrett said, she was at a charity fundraising party in downtown Juneau in what she described as a dark, crowded room.

She said she noticed Westlake standing nearby. As he walked past, Garrett said, he grabbed her buttocks.

Garrett first came forward publicly about Westlake – without naming him – at an Alaska Democratic Party meeting last month in Soldotna. She said she was motivated to talk about Westlake after hearing other women describe similar incidents involving him, and after she decided it was worth the risk that she might not get another job in the Legislature.

"Nothing's being done, you know?" Garrett said in an interview this week. "We give all this lip service to this, we pass these policies, but that doesn't change that we have a culture that kind of lets abuse like this run rampant."

Alaska's graduation rate is the fifth-worst in the nation - Alaska Dispatch News

Legislative News - Fri, 2017-12-08 14:47

Alaska Dispatch News

Alaska's graduation rate is the fifth-worst in the nation
Alaska Dispatch News
Alaska's on-time graduation rate in 2016 was the fifth-worst in the nation, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education. Among all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Iowa had the highest four-year graduation rate in 2016 at 91 ...

Alaska state lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior - News & Observer

Legislative News - Fri, 2017-12-08 14:46

News & Observer

Alaska state lawmaker accused of inappropriate behavior
News & Observer
An Alaska state representative accused of inappropriate behavior by a former legislative aide says he apologizes if an encounter with him "made anyone uncomfortable." Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake released the statement after allegations against him ...

and more »

Alaska’s graduation rate is the fifth-worst in the nation

Alaska News - Fri, 2017-12-08 14:43

Alaska's on-time graduation rate in 2016 was the fifth-worst in the nation, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

Among all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Iowa had the highest four-year graduation rate in 2016 at 91.3 percent and Washington, D.C., had the lowest at 69.2 percent. The nationwide average rose to a record high, with 84.1 percent of students graduating on time.

In Alaska, 76.1 percent of students in the Class of 2016 graduated in four years — the rest dropped out, needed more time to earn academic credits, or may have pursued a GED instead of a high school diploma.

"Alaskans have agreed that we are not satisfied with our current graduation rates," Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in a statement. "We want better for all of Alaska's students."

While Alaska's ranking remains low, its four-year graduation rate has steadily risen over the years, as has the nationwide average.

In 2011, Alaska's four-year graduation rate was 68 percent.

In 2017, the statewide four-year rate reached 78.2 percent and its preliminary five-year graduation rate hit 81.3 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

National graduation rate rankings for the Class of 2017 will not be available until next year.

Alaska's No. 47 ranking in 2016 was slightly worse than its No. 46 ranking in 2015, but better than its No. 48 ranking in 2014.

High school graduation requirements vary by state. Some states require students to take an exit exam or complete a senior project to get a diploma.

In Alaska, state law requires high school students to earn at least 21 academic credits to graduate.

Alaska students used to have to pass a high school exit exam to get a diploma, but the state Legislature eliminated that requirement in 2014. Then, Alaska students had to take the SAT, ACT or WorkKeys to graduate, but that part of state law expired in 2016.

Johnson said initiatives that would help increase Alaska's graduation rate included the state's Every Student Succeeds Act plan — which it recently submitted to comply with federal law — and its list of education commitments and recommendations gathered during Alaska's Education Challenge.

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