The Alaska Legislature will not intervene in a lawsuit challenging the eligibility of Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman to serve in public office.
In a 9-1 vote Friday afternoon, a House-Senate panel voted against a request for intervention from Eastman, who said in an email that his ability to continue serving as a sitting legislator is “a function administered principally by the legislative branch.”
Members of the Legislative Council, which makes decisions on behalf of the Legislature when it has not fully convened, debated intervention behind closed doors for more than an hour, then its members voted on the topic after a short public discussion.
The lone vote in support came from Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.
Hughes said she believes that if Eastman loses his lawsuit, it could encourage a variety of cases against state lawmakers and deter people from running for office.
The lawsuit against Eastman is based upon the Alaska Constitution’s disloyalty clause, which states that someone may not serve in public office if they belong to or support an organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government or the state government.
Membership lists show Eastman as a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing organization whose leaders have been charged with various crimes linked to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Arguments in the seditious conspiracy trial against the group’s founder and four co-defendants are scheduled to begin on Monday.
Eastman is a defendant in a December trial expected to determine whether the Oath Keepers, and Eastman’s membership in the group, violate the disloyalty clause.
If Eastman loses, Hughes suggested, it could have significant implications.
“An example might be if you’re a member of a chamber of commerce, and one of the leaders in that chamber of commerce goes rogue, and advocates for the overthrow of the government. All of a sudden, then you are in jeopardy,” she said.
“If we don’t step up and provide legal representation … we are going to discourage people from running for the Legislature, particularly people who are not wealthy and not able to take on cases like this,” Hughes said.
“This will chill freedom of speech, this will chill freedom of organization, this will chill freedom of association,” said Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.
Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said intervention could create a “slippery slope” by relieving legislators of responsibility for their own actions.
Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, offered a similar argument. Micciche was sued earlier this year by the Northern Justice Project, the same firm bringing suit against Eastman.
Micciche’s lawsuit involved a constituent who was banned from responding to his Twitter account; the constituent dropped their lawsuit after the ban was lifted.
“Ultimately, the buck stopped with me. I felt like it was my responsibility. I would not be coming to let Legislative Council cover my legal costs,” he said.
If Eastman were to end his membership with the Oath Keepers, the lawsuit against him would end, said Savannah Fletcher, the attorney seeking to have him disqualified.
“I think there is a personal responsibility issue here, and at this time, I can’t support intervention,” Micciche said. “We’ll see where this case goes, and I may feel differently later.”
HOW THEY VOTED
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, abstained from voting.
The lone vote in favor of intervention came from Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.
Voting against intervention were: Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage; Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage; Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau.
Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.