Alaska state legislator Sharon Cissna (source: AK State Legislature)

After her mastectomy padding showed up in the invasive full-body X-ray scan at Sea-Tac Airport on Sunday, Alaska Representative Sharon Cissna (D – District K Anchorage) refused to go through a highly invasive pat-down.  Unlike some who have refused this insulting procedure, Cissna was allowed to leave the airport.  She had been searched before.  After telling her husband she would never submit to such indignity again, she kept her word.

Apparently, Cissna went from Sea-Tac to British Columbia, where she caught a plane to Prince Rupert, where the Alaska Ferry MV Matanuska was scheduled to dock early in the week, as it worked its way north from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

From Prince Rupert, before boarding the ferry, which doesn’t have  wifi, and only intermittent cell phone coverage, Cissna wrote a letter to constituents:

The evening of the 20th of February 2011 started with relief, as I was anxious to get back to the important work of the Alaskan Legislature.  Heading into security after time with the line of passengers, I felt upbeat.  I’d blocked out the horror of three months earlier, but after the pleasant TSA agent checked the ticket and ID, I suddenly found myself directed into scanning by the Seattle Airport’s full-body imaging scan.  The horror began again.  A female agent placed herself blocking my passage.  Scan results would again display that my breast cancer and the resulting scars pointed a TSA finger of irregularity at my chest.  I would require invasive, probing hands of a stranger over my body.

Memories of violation would consume my thoughts again.”

“Being a public servant and elected representative momentarily disappeared.

Facing the agent I began to remember what my husband and I’d decided after the previous intensive physical search.  That I never had to submit to that horror again!  It would be difficult, we agreed, but I had the choice to say no, this twisted policy did not have to be the price of flying to Juneau!”

“So last night, as more and more TSA, airline, airport and police gathered, I became stronger in remembering to fight the submission to a physical hand exam.

I repeatedly said that I would not allow the feeling-up and I would not use the transportation mode that required it.”

“For nearly fifty years I’ve fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused.  The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government ‘safety’ policy.”

“For these people, as well as myself, I refused to submit.”

Wednesday, the Alaska House of Representatives took a “Sense of  the House” vote in support of Rep. Cissna in a resolution:

“that efficient travel is a cornerstone of our economy and our quality of life especially here in Alaska, and that no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel.”

The House voted 36-2 to adopt that sentiment. Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, voted “no.” Cissna and Rep. Anna Fairclough, another Eagle River Republican, were absent.

Representatives Lynn and Sadler are the legislature’s most ardent supporters of the most intrusive and ridiculous aspects of our mismanaged, stupid “war on terror.”   Lynn denounced me in a 2004 joint session of the legislature as an enemy of the State.  

Anchorage blogger Steve Aufrecht, who is in Juneau for part of the ongoing legislative session, visited Rep. Cissna’s Juneau office yesterday, where he photographed a pile of copies of emailed letters of support for the legislator.  Steve wrote “Cissna’s office has been inundated with supportive emails from around the country.”

Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, the sole member of Alaska’s national congressional delegation to vote for the extension of  Patriot Act provisions last week (Rep. Don Young (R) and Sen. Mark Begich (D) voted against the extension), is supporting Cissna. She wrote to the TSA yesterday:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today sent a letter to Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole requesting the TSA immediately clarify it’s screening policy for airline passengers with special medical conditions.

“This kind of invasive probing should not be the price of travel,” Murkowski wrote in the letter. “I appreciate that the TSA has a difficult task in keeping air transportation safe…. However, this incident highlights specific privacy concerns that must be addressed. I am concerned there is an imbalance between safety requirements and overly invasive procedures targeting air travelers who have undergone mastectomy surgeries or use prosthetics.”

“Air travel to Alaska should never require submission to a stranger’s intrusive touching of one’s sensitive body area,” Murkowski wrote.

Hundreds of people are expected to meet the MV Matanuska in support of Rep. Cissna when it docks at the Auke Bay terminal north of Juneau this morning.  Progressives in the state capitol are already mobilized this week, having been demonstrating outside the legislature in solidarity with Wisconsin union workers.

Air travel is more important to Alaskans than to residents of any other state.  Most Alaska communities are not accessible by road.  For instance, my wife is having to take two 737 flights and four Piper Navajo flights this week, merely to go from one job site (mentoring first-year Alaska bush teachers) to the next.

Update: Rep. Cissna arrived in Juneau at 11:00  am PST:

JUNEAU, Alaska —State Rep. Sharon Cissna (D-Anchorage) arrived back in Juneau Thursday morning after a days-long ordeal resulting from her decision to refuse a TSA pat-down at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

The ferry M/V Matanuska carrying the state lawmaker pulled into Auke Bay just after 10 a.m.

A dozen or so supporters, some bearing flowers and holding welcome signs, gathered on the dock to greet Cissna.

The lawmaker’s trip began Sunday, when TSA officials at Sea-Tac told her she’d have to undergo a pat-down after they spotted something unusual in a full body scan. Cissna, a breast cancer survivor, said she was targeted because of irregularities in her chest, the result of a mastectomy.

She denied further scrutiny, saying in a later statement: “It would require invasive, probing hands of a stranger over my body. Memories of violation would consume my thoughts again.”

Cissna chose to leave the airport and instead took a small plane to Prince Rupert, B.C., where she boarded the ferry. The voyage took roughly four days.