JUNEAU — Members of the Alaska House’s coalition majority are discussing whether and how to punish Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, for his reported membership in a far-right paramilitary organization whose leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Multiple members of the largely-Democratic coalition said their talks have involved a variety of possible punishments or actions, including expelling him from the House. Other options include a legislative investigation, a non-binding vote of disapproval, passing legislation related to a disloyalty clause in the Alaska Constitution, removing Eastman from committees, cutting his staff or censuring him.
“I think what we’ve been learning about Rep. Eastman is extremely concerning. And I think it needs to be addressed. We at least need to look into it as a Legislature and figure out what action is warranted,” said Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage.
Alaska’s constitution prohibits anyone “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” from holding public office.
Eastman was identified last year as a “life member” of a group known as the Oath Keepers. Members of that group, including its leader, are facing conspiracy charges after federal prosecutors this month accused them of preparing to take violent action in order to stop Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Eastman was present at the Jan. 6 rally held before people stormed the Capitol, though no evidence has emerged of his participation in the subsequent riot and he has not been accused of a crime.
Eastman also has not denounced the Oath Keepers or denied his membership in the group, and when the group’s leaders were charged, Eastman called the accusations “politically driven indictments.”
“This membership in the Oath Keepers is troubling,” said Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, who confirmed the options under discussion by the coalition.
Eastman declined to answer questions for this story. Asked if he was aware of the discussions, he said “no,” and walked away through a crowd of lawmakers. Contacted again the following day, he again declined to answer questions and again walked away, into his office, and closed the door.
Members of the state House are discussing whether Eastman’s presumed involvement with the Oath Keepers is enough to run afoul of the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause, contained in Article XII, Section 4.
Those discussions have been encouraged by public pressure. There is a public petition seeking Eastman’s removal from office, calls for action on social media and letters to the editor, including one from the mayor of Bethel, Mark Springer.
Eastman is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, and more than 70 West Point alumni signed a letter last year urging him to resign.
Lawmakers have also been receiving messages directly from constituents, aides said.
There has been no public discussion of action against Eastman. Instead, lawmakers have been bringing up the issue in one-on-one talks and closed-door majority coalition meetings.
There has been no agreement on what actions to take — if any — and no agreement on when those actions might take place. Schrage, the Anchorage independent, said further investigation could generate agreement.
Expulsion requires a two-thirds vote, which means the action would need votes from some of the members of the Alaska House’s Republican minority, which holds 18 of the chamber’s 40 seats.
Such a step would be unprecedented in the House. Only one lawmaker, Sen. George Hohman, has ever been expelled from the Legislature, and that followed a bribery conviction in the 1980s.
Members of the majority said that part of their delay in reaching a decision is their concern that taking a small action — or forcing a censure vote that fails — would allow Eastman to portray himself as a victim persecuted for political reasons rather than for a violation of the Alaska Constitution.
Eastman was censured in 2017 by the House after claiming without evidence that women in rural villages try to get pregnant so they can get a free trip to a city for an abortion. It was the first time the House had ever censured one of its members.
Springer, the Bethel mayor, said steps below expulsion won’t make much of a difference.
“They censured him. He’s like, ‘Big deal, I’ll just stand here and listen to it — I don’t care.’ If they censured him again, it still it wouldn’t do anything,” he said.
House members who refuse to take action against Eastman, Springer said, are in “tacit agreement” with Eastman “acting outside the bounds of the Constitution of the state of Alaska.”
“Whatever it is, it’s going to be a hard call for some members of the minority to sign on,” he said. “And I think that if they consider it to be a hard call, that’s pretty darn tragic.”
House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said she’s had one conversation with House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, about the issue. But Tilton’s Republican minority caucus has not discussed the issue internally, she added.
Tilton said Stutes discussed the idea that Eastman’s actions could have a detrimental impact on the Alaska House as an institution. But personally, Tilton said she is reluctant to take action.
“Rep. Eastman has a right to represent his constituency in the manner that he feels is representative of the district,” Tilton said. “I really feel like it’s up to the members of that district to show their concerns at this point.”
Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage and a minority member of the House, said he also has been informed of the Eastman discussions but declined to share his opinion on what he thinks should be done.
Shaw said Eastman tends to “walk a fine line” in the Legislature — abiding by rules just closely enough to avoid strong action.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, is the sole member of an independent caucus separate from the coalition majority and the Republican minority. Eastman is the reason she’s not a member of the minority, she said.
If Eastman runs for re-election — he has filed documents saying he intends to do so — the Alaska Division of Elections will be required to determine whether he is qualified. The division occasionally disqualifies potential candidates who fail to meet residency standards, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether the division has ever considered the disloyalty clause.
An official at the division said Wednesday that it has not yet considered or discussed Eastman’s qualifications.
It’s difficult to find parallels in other states, partially because those states do not use Alaska’s constitution, which contains the disloyalty clause.
But the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment does contain a clause that prohibits someone from holding public office if they took an oath to uphold the Constitution, then engaged in an insurrection against the federal government.
That clause was written during the Civil War. But its applications to the Jan. 6 riot are now being considered, and officials in other states have begun considering legal challenges.
Brooks reported from Juneau and Herz from Anchorage. ADN reporter Iris Samuels also contributed.
Correction: The original version of this story contained an incorrect citation for the disloyalty clause. It is Article XII, Section 4 of the Alaska Constitution, not Article XIII, Section 4. This story has been updated.