Politics

Alaska lawmaker’s reelection challenged over his Oath Keepers membership

Several Alaskans are challenging Rep. David Eastman’s candidacy for re-election to the Alaska House over his membership in a far-right militia whose leaders have been accused of plotting to storm the U.S. Capitol.

“He’s a legislator and I just really hold any representative in the state up to a higher standard,” said Jason Thomas, an Eagle River attorney who filed a challenge to Eastman’s candidacy. “Storming the Capitol or being associated with people who do isn’t okay.”

The argument made by Thomas and others against Eastman’s eligibility to run for office is based on a section of the Alaska Constitution, which states that “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.”

Eastman was in Washington, D.C., on the day of the violent attack on the Capitol and is named as a ”lifetime member” of the Oath Keepers, a group whose leaders have been charged with federal conspiracy over their alleged roles in the Jan. 6 insurrection. But no evidence has linked Eastman to the riot at the Capitol, and he has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Eastman has previously called the indictment of Oath Keepers leaders “politically driven.” In response to several specific questions on Thursday about his involvement in the group, he said in an email that he “would have to see the complaint before (he) could comment on it.” He did not immediately respond when provided a copy of a complaint.

In a blog post dated earlier this year, Eastman wrote that attending a rally in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, “meant being one of only a few from my state who had the opportunity to answer the call of the president and physically stand with him in his final days in office.”

Eastman has served in the state House since 2017, cultivating a reputation for outlandish, offensive and divisive statements that have alienated him from some fellow Republicans in the House.

House members considered taking action against Eastman after the initial revelation of his Oath Keepers membership, but he remained in office and retained his committee assignments as a member of the Republican House minority caucus until the end of April. He was stripped of some committee seats just weeks before the end of the legislative session, and months after his connection to the Oath Keepers was first revealed.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, an Anchorage Republican, said she is also considering filing a challenge to the Division of Elections.

Former Mat-Su Assembly Member Randall Kowalke, who said he previously voted for Eastman, also filed a challenge to his candidacy. Kowalke left the Republican Party in 2020, saying it had gone in the direction of “totalitarian fascism.”

Eastman is “a poster boy for that particular view,” Kowalke said.

Thomas said a public hearing Thursday night by a U.S. House committee charged with investigating the events of Jan. 6 was part of the reason he decided to file the challenge.

“I haven’t been thinking about this for a while, but with the hearing coming up, it was in the front part of my mind,” Thomas said.

Another challenge to Eastman’s candidacy came from Ivan Hodes, an Anchorage resident who posted his filing on Twitter and called on other Alaskans to file similar challenges.

“It seems pretty clear that the Oath Keepers are exactly the kind of organization imagined by the framers of the Constitution,” Hodes said in an interview on Friday. When the Legislature did not remove Eastman following the revelation he was a member of the organization, Hodes said he “felt that it was necessary for citizens to continue that fight, continue that struggle.”

State law allows residents to challenge candidates’ standing for filing for office up to 10 days after the June 1 filing deadline.

Raven Amos, a Wasilla resident, said she also filed a challenge to Eastman’s candidacy, and is familiar with at least six other Wasilla residents who have filed challenges, including her mother and husband.

“Alaska’s constitution is very clean on who is eligible for reelection, and which actions will disqualify someone from being reelected,” she said in a Twitter message. “If the Legislature is incapable of defending the state’s constitution, then it becomes the duty of the voting body to demand that the rule of law is followed.”

Division of Elections spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor confirmed by email that the division received “a number of complaints about Rep. Eastman and others” but did not provide an exact number of the number of complaints received. Complaints are due by Saturday at 5 p.m, and the division will respond to each complaint within 30 days, Montemayor said.

Hodes, who like Eastman is a graduate of West Point, previously signed a letter signed by 70 West Point alumni calling on Eastman to resign after news emerged about Eastman’s Oath Keepers membership.

Hodes said he thinks the case to expel Eastman from the Legislature is stronger now than it was when he first called for him to be removed from office, and that he was willing to go to court to argue as much.

“Now the leaders (of the Oath Keepers) have been indicted, three members have actually pled guilty to seditious conspiracy,” Hodes said. “The January 6 hearing by Congress just underscore that in a pretty dramatic fashion.”

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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