Politics

Judge rules Wasilla lawmaker likely ineligible for office due to Oath Keepers membership, delaying election certification until trial concludes

David Eastman, Joe Miller, court, courtroom

An Anchorage judge said Thursday that based on the limited evidence presented, Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman is likely ineligible to hold public office, but his name will stay on the general election ballot and the vote certification will be delayed until a trial scheduled for December can be held.

Former Mat-Su Assembly member Randall Kowalke, who filed the lawsuit, has argued Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers runs afoul of the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause, which bars a person from holding public office in Alaska who advocates for the overthrow by force of the U.S. or state government. The leader of the Oath Keepers and several affiliates have been charged or indicted related to their participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Judge Jack McKenna granted the preliminary injunction Thursday afternoon and said based on the evidence presented, Kowalke would likely succeed in arguing that Eastman is a member of the Oath Keepers, that the group is active and that it is presently seeking to overthrow the U.S. government.

But, McKenna said, “the court emphasizes that this analysis is based upon a limited record and after the testimony of no witnesses, and it does not represent a final decision in this case.”

Kowalke had asked for Eastman’s name to be struck off the ballot, but Eastman’s attorney Joe Miller, former Republican U.S. Senate candidate, raised concerns during oral arguments Tuesday that that would disenfranchise Wasilla voters, a majority of whom have consistently voted for the Republican, most recently in August’s primary election.

Conversely, Savannah Fletcher, Kowalke’s attorney, said keeping Eastman’s name on the ballot could also disenfranchise voters if he is deemed ineligible to hold public office after the election because the sitting governor would choose a replacement.

McKenna agreed that the risks of disenfranchisement are a concern. He said that striking Eastman’s name off the ballot now would effectively mean that the Wasilla Republican was barred from holding public office because he would not have a chance to be reelected.

“(He) would lose at the outset of the case before he had a full and fair opportunity to defend himself,” McKenna said.

Instead, the Anchorage judge ordered that the certification of election results for House District 27 in Wasilla will be delayed until after the December trial finishes. The Division of Elections’ target date for certifying all other election results is Nov. 29, three weeks after the Nov. 8 general election.

If Eastman wins the election, and is deemed eligible to hold public office, he can be seated in the House of Representatives in January. If he wins reelection and is deemed ineligible to hold public office, the Alaska Division of Elections can exclude Eastman from the ranked choice voting tabulation process, meaning votes for him would go to the voters’ next-highest choices.

Kowalke said he was “thrilled” by the compromise and that the judge had found a “really balanced, beautiful solution.” Miller did not respond to calls and a text message seeking a request for comment on whether Eastman would appeal Thursday’s preliminary injunction decision to the Alaska Supreme Court or whether he, too, would accept the judge’s decision.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.

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