JUNEAU — The Alaska House of Representatives will not immediately vote to punish Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, for his membership in a far-right paramilitary organization.
Members of the 21-person coalition majority in charge of the House say they currently lack the votes to remove Eastman from legislative committees or to expel him from the House entirely.
Since the start of the legislative session in January, members of the majority have been debating whether Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers, a group linked to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, runs afoul of the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause. That clause prohibits elected officials and state employees from supporting or joining “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.”
Asked whether the issue is becoming a distraction, Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said, “Certainly it is. We have business to take care of.”
But House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said public pressure has made the topic impossible to ignore. Several progressive groups have formed “Expel Eastman,” a coalition that has begun lobbying legislators for action.
Twenty-one votes in the 40-person House are needed to remove Eastman from legislative committee assignments, and 27 are needed to expel him from the House — an act that would be unprecedented in the history of the House.
No members of the House’s 18-member Republican minority have said they support action against Eastman, and some members of the House coalition majority also oppose action under the disloyalty clause. That clause has never been the subject of a lawsuit or state law, and it isn’t clear whether it would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which has been interpreted to guarantee a right of free association.
In light of public pressure, Tuck said he will hold an informational hearing about the Oath Keepers on Thursday. Tuck, who chairs the House’s committee on military and veteran affairs, said he intends to invite testimony from experts who have studied the Oath Keepers.
“We just wanted to make sure that the public knows we’re not ignoring the issue, and pick up information in hearings on what Oath Keepers is,” he said.
He said he also intends to invite members of the Oath Keepers.
“I would like to hear from members of Oath Keepers. If the Oath Keepers organization themselves would like to speak, that would be very welcomed,” he said.
Michael Patterson, an organizer for Expel Eastman, said Friday’s statements by Stutes and Tuck were “pretty disappointing.”
“David Eastman, he’s dangerous. He represents dangerous ideological beliefs, and he’s using his position and platform to propagate those ideas,” Patterson said.
“The public is paying attention to this, and people are rightfully upset about this, and I don’t feel like we’re being listened to,” he said.
Eastman has not been accused with a crime, and the Oath Keepers’ formal bylaws disavow treason.
But Patterson and others seeking action against Eastman point to a pattern of violent action by the group’s members. More than a dozen Oath Keepers, including the group’s leader, have been charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Oath Keepers members have an extensive history of violence and anti-government action at other events as well.
Met by reporters Friday, Eastman said of the hearings, “I think it’s important that when we go through any of our processes in the Legislature, that we do so with notice to the public and the opportunity for the public to participate.”
“I’m glad for any opportunity for the public to be engaged,” he said.