Rep. David Eastman appears in court over eligibility for office as member of Oath Keepers
Civil rights group suing Eastman and Division of Elections for violating disloyalty clause within Alaska Constitution
Eastman is a member of the Oath Keepers, a group which been labeled a radical militia group that many blame for storming the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Attorneys for Rep. Eastman, the Division of Elections, and the Northern Justice Project all argued their cases before Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna in Anchorage.
Eastman’s attorney told the judge that just because someone leaked the names of the members of the Oath Keepers doesn’t mean that Eastman subscribes to all their beliefs. However, an attorney representing the private civil rights firm Northern Justice Project feels that his membership alone should have disqualified him from being allowed on the ballot to begin with.
Eastman was first elected in 2016 and has represented District 10 on the northwest side of the Matanuska-Sustina Borough, covering Meadow Lakes north to Talkeetna. The complaint states that Eastman is seeking re-election for what is now the District 27 seat.
The purpose of Thursday’s hearing was to argue the merits of a complaint filed by the Northern Justice Project on behalf of Randall Kowalke, a constituent of Eastman’s. In the July complaint, it states Kowalke supported Eastman prior to learning about his affiliation with Oath Keepers.
“Mr. Eastman was ineligible as a candidate under the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause due to his membership in the Oath Keepers,” Kowalke stated in the complaint.
In June, the Division of Elections reviewed Kowalke’s complaint and determined that he remains eligible to run for state office, despite the fact the division was aware of Eastman reportedly being an Oath Keeper who attended the Jan. 6 rally. Kowalke’s complaint quotes a portion of the Alaska Constitution.
“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 United States or of the State shall be qualified to hold any public office of trust or profit under this constitution,” reads the constitution.
Eastman claims that the Oath Keepers doesn’t consist of a group of radicals out to destroy America.
“I think the idea that the Oath Keepers are somehow committed to overthrowing the government is unbelievable,” Eastman said.
An attorney representing the Northern Justice Project contended that the Alaska Division of Elections had, and still has, the authority to disqualify Eastman from running for office based on constitutional provisions.
“We have brought this suit not just against Mr. Eastman but also against the Division of Elections because they do have the duty to uphold the Alaska constitution, just as any state agency does,” said attorney Savannah Fletcher. “Their duty specifically ties to upholding eligibility requirements including Article 12 Section 4.”
However, the attorney for the Division of Elections says that’s well beyond the scope of what the division can do.
“The division’s statute and regulations calls only for this review of internal division documents and public state agency records. Again the division doesn’t have the power to conduct an investigation,” said attorney Lael Harrison.
Earlier in the week, Eastman’s alleged membership in Oath Keepers was again in the news when the Anti-Defamation League released what it said was a study of a database containing Oath Keeper’s membership. The league noted that Eastman was the only elected Alaska official on the membership rolls.
The case has been set for trial beginning the week of Dec. 12. The league’s analysis also alleged that there are three law enforcement officers in the state who are Oath Keepers as well, but did not provide the names of those officers.
Eastman disputed that members of the Oath Keepers were enemies of the state when asked about his affiliation with the group.
“The idea that we’ve got some new communist party of 39,000, you know, enemies of the state is, is just unbelievable.”
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