Alaska House postpones vote to remove Rep. David Eastman from committees over Oath Keepers ties
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives has postponed a vote to remove Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman from his committee assignments over his lifetime membership in the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that has seen its founder, and several other members, charged with seditious conspiracy for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Eastman was present in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021 to protest the 2020 election results that saw President Joe Biden elected to office, but no evidence has emerged that he entered the U.S. Capitol or engaged in any violent activity.
“Those who participated in violence on Jan. 6 should be prosecuted, full stop,” he said in a video posted on social media. “And those who slandered others, like myself who did not, should also be prosecuted.”
There have been conversations in the House of Representatives about what should happen with Eastman over his Oath Keepers membership, ranging from removing him from committee assignments to censuring him and then possibly expelling him from the Legislature. There have also been claims that his Oath Keepers membership runs afoul of the disloyalty clause of the Alaska Constitution, which states:
“No person who advocates, or who aids or belongs to any party or organization or association which advocates, the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States or of the State shall be qualified to hold any public office of trust or profit under this constitution.”
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck read that constitutional provision on the House floor on Monday.
“Yes, you do have the freedom of assembly unless there’s an attempt to overthrow the government,” he argued.
Eastman has not denounced the Oath Keepers and he wrote a lengthy post on social media on Sunday, defending his “slight” connection to the group. He accused “the Left” of orchestrating a campaign against him, seeking to overturn his election.
“I wasn’t elected to participate in cancel culture, and I certainly don’t plan to start with an organization of almost 40,000 military veterans and first responders who have committed no crime,” he said on social media about the Oath Keepers.
The House Committee on Committees met on Monday morning to vote on Eastman’s future on several legislative committees. Five members of the bipartisan House majority coalition voted to remove him while Republican Reps. Cathy Tilton and Laddie Shaw voted to allow him to keep his committee assignments.
A majority of the House of Representatives needed to adopt that report, but there was a technical issue with it. Members said there needed to be a separate vote to remove Easman from the Select Committee On Legislative Ethics. The full House vote to oust Eastman from his committee assignments was delayed until Wednesday at the earliest.
“There was a valid point of order brought up that we want to address,” said House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, after the floor session. “We want to give the minority an opportunity to address the situation from within, as well.”
Tilton, the House minority leader, suspected that the House majority may not have had the votes to oust Eastman from his committee assignments.
“We went to the floor and we were ready to do what we needed to do,” she said.
To expel Eastman from the Legislature would require support from two-thirds of the House of Representatives, or 27 members. That would require six members of the Republican House minority voting in favor of that alongside all 21 members of the bipartisan majority coalition. Tilton said there aren’t the votes to do that.
She said her caucus is non-binding and her members can vote as they like, but she noted that there are no indictments against Eastman and that his constituents could file a recall petition if they want to remove him from office.
“We do live in America where a person is innocent until proven guilty,” she said.
On the House floor, House minority Republicans made similar arguments. Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikisiki, said the First Amendment gives Americans “the right to free speech and to freely associate with the organizations I choose.”
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, spoke about the oath of office taken by every legislator.
“Our duty is first to our country and our state and everything else comes after that,” she said.
Eastman was censured in 2017 after claiming, without evidence, that women in rural Alaska were intentionally getting pregnant so they could get state-funded trips for abortions. In 2020, he was stripped of committee assignments by his own caucus after dust-ups between Republican members.
A group of Alaskans has launched a group called “Expel Eastman,” lobbying legislators to have him removed from the Legislature. Stutes said she “didn’t want to go down that road” of suspecting whether removing Eastman from his committee assignments would be the end of the story or whether further actions would be needed.
“We need to work with our minority, we’re trying to work with our minority and maintain a working relationship,” she said.
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