Alaska Legislature

Wasilla state lawmaker stays on ballot for now amid challenge over Oath Keepers membership

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has said he will not determine whether Republican Rep. David Eastman is eligible to hold state office before ballots are printed for the Nov. 8 general election.

Wednesday’s order from Judge Jack McKenna denied a request for an expedited schedule amid a lawsuit challenging Eastman’s placement on the ballot. The order does not eliminate the possibility that Eastman, a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers militia, may later be declared ineligible for public office.

Ballots are scheduled to begin printing next week. Eastman, a sitting legislator, is a candidate for House District 27 in Wasilla.

In his order, McKenna said, “past elections have also seen candidates withdraw after ballots had been printed and mailed without throwing the election into chaos.”

He also noted that Alaska has a new ranked choice voting system, “potentially blunting any impact of a change to the candidates.”

Randall Kowalke, a former member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly, sued Eastman and the Alaska Division of Elections on July 29, challenging Eastman’s eligibility.

In his legal complaint, Kowalke claims that Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers violates the Alaska Constitution’s “disloyalty clause,” which states, “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.”

Members of the Oath Keepers, including the group’s founder, have been charged by the federal government with seditious conspiracy linked to the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Eastman attended protests preceding the riots but has not been accused of any violent acts.

In a series of informational hearings earlier this year, experts testifying in front of the Alaska House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee offered mixed opinions about whether mere membership in the Oath Keepers violates the disloyalty clause.

Other legal experts have said that the clause — which has never been tested in court — may violate free-speech protections. The Division of Elections has deemed Eastman eligible to appear on the ballot.

Oral arguments in Kowalke’s lawsuit have been scheduled for Sept. 9, when attorneys are scheduled to debate the merits of the case. It is not certain whether the lawsuit will be decided before the election.

If Eastman remains on the ballot and is re-elected to office, an unfavorable verdict could lead him to be removed from office.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.

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