Alaska Sen. David Wilson says he has met with the reporter he allegedly slapped earlier this week, and they have patched things up.
After the Thursday meeting in his Juneau office, Wilson said, “we shook hands, and we parted ways.”
The reporter, Nathaniel Herz of the Alaska Dispatch News, is not talking.
“What’s up,” he said when contacted on Friday to confirm the meeting with Wilson, a Wasilla Republican. He then refused to comment on whether there was a meeting.
“I’m going to decline to comment,” Herz said.
Asked why anyone in the public caught up in a news story should be expected to cooperate with journalists when a journalist caught up in news stories refuses to answer a question as simple and meaningless as whether he met with a state senator, Herz paused for a long time.
“I’m, just, that’s all I’m going to say,” he said, but added that he’d already given “a full and detailed account” to the newspaper for which he works.
When it was pointed he was being asked about a meeting with Wilson in the latter’s Juneau office – not about the slap days prior to that in a stairwell in the Capitol, which was the subject of the Alaska Dispatch News story – Herz offered this:
“There’s nothing there that needs further publicity….I don’t have any interest in answering any more questions….There’s nothing more to talk about here…I’m declining to comment.”
Asked specifically if he planned to withdraw his criminal complaint against Wilson in the wake of what the senator described as a cordial meeting, Herz said, “it’s not my choice.”
Asked for an explanation of what that meant, he hung up the phone.
The Wilson version
Wilson, in an earlier interview, left the impression the slap took place, but did not specifically admit to it.
“I can’t say that,” he later said. “That would be an admission of guilt.”
He largely dodged specific questions about the incident by saying that because what happened is now caught up in the legal system “I can’t talk about it.”
He did, however, let a little out.
“It was not an aggressive act,” he said. “I have an inner child that sometimes gets out….I have no ill will for Nat.”
Wilson, who has a degree in social psychology, thought Herz might understand this better than anyone.
“We’re fine together,” he said. “There’s no fear there.”
Wilson is a 35-year-old, first-term senator who said he got into politics “to help others in any way that I can.”
Along with talking to Herz about the slap, he said he met with the Senate leadership and “told them I never want to disrespect the office.”
He generally praised Herz’s Juneau reporting, but said he had been troubled by a conversation he had with the reporter early in the year during which Herz described politicians as “all untrustworthy and manipulative.”
Wilson said he thought that unfair, but held no grudge. He sounded almost baffled as to what might have led to the slap, which Herz himself described as possibly “playful” in a tape recording of the events leading up to and immediately following what has come to be a national incident.
“I have had no acts of aggression,” Wilson said. A search of state court records found nothing criminal related to a David Wilson of the senator’s age.
In the claimed Thursday meeting with Herz, Wilson said they two men talked about fishing, Herz’s plans to run the Mount Marathon Race in Seward in July, and the sometimes testy relationship between the media and lawmakers in Juneau.
Wilson said he understands the role of the media and actually wanted to hold a “press appreciation day” in Juneau and sit everyone down around lunch to talk about relationships, but “I was told reporters can’t take gifts from legislators.”
Juneau reporters consider food a gift. They won’t even drink the coffee or eat the donuts at Senate Majority press briefings, Wilson said.
He said he wished the press and legislators had a better relationship.
Specifically as to the Herz story that led to the slap – Herz was pressing Wilson for his reaction to a previous article when the slap came – Wilson said, “two-thirds of the story I agreed with this.”
But he said he told Herz when they met that in the other third “you led people down the wrong path.”
The story questioned legislation Wilson introduced to eliminate grants for some non-profit social service organizations. The story said the law would “hurt nearly a dozen social service organizations in the Mat-Su — with the notable exception of the agency where Wilson worked through the end of last year.”
It went on to say that Alaska Family Services would avoid being hurt because it didn’t apply for the grants this year, but had in the past. The story suggested, but did not say, that Wilson’s actions might have some connection to Alaska Family, where he previously served as director of the domestic violence and sexual assault program.
The legislation introduced this year “isn’t the first action by Wilson as an elected official that’s raised questions about his relationship with Alaska Family Services,” the story said.
Wilson said he isn’t trying to direct money anywhere. He is, he said, trying to reign in a grant program in a time of state tight money.
“It’s the only grant program in health I can touch,” he said. A fiscal conservative, Wilson ran on a program of trying to reduce state spending. About 60 percent of that spending goes to the Departments of Health & Social Services and Education.
Both departments have large, vocal constituencies opposed to any budget cuts.
CORRECTION: The original version of this story said Wilson admitted to slapping Herz. Wilson did not specifically admit to that.