JUNEAU — The Alaska House of Representatives formally reprimanded Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman Wednesday after he asked during a committee hearing whether there could be economic benefits from the deaths of abused children.
The censure vote was 35-1 with Eastman as the sole no vote. A censure vote is a formal statement of disapproval, but it has no other consequences.
The Wasilla Republican asked a series of questions during a Monday House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impacts of child abuse. Eastman asked representatives of the Alaska Children’s Trust whether there could be economic benefits to society from the death of an abused child.
The questions were intended to make a point about economic arguments for abortion, he said Wednesday. Eastman, who is vehemently anti-abortion, said that it was “outrageous” to suggest that he supports the deaths of children, “when I have staked my entire political career arguing the opposite.”
A clip of the exchange between Eastman and Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, was shared widely on social media. It sparked widespread outrage online and news reports from national outlets.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andrew Gray sat next to Eastman during the hearing. He adopted a child from the foster care system who had adverse childhood experiences. He introduce the censure motion and said the language used by Eastman was “atrocious” and “indefensible.”
“We must do something. This body must act,” Gray said.
Eastman has shown no contrition publicly for the comments he made.
Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance, who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, initially objected to the censure motion, before voting in support of it. She said the questions asked by Eastman were “messy” and “insensitive.”
“I should have been more sensitive to my members in that committee, and I intend to do that moving forward,” she said. “And to offer everyone an opportunity to clarify something that may be interpreted incorrectly — or may be received in a way that, perhaps, it was not intended.”
House Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, was unavailable for comment after the censure vote. A spokesperson for the Republican-dominated House majority caucus said that the actions on the floor speak for themselves. Now, the House needs to get back to business, the spokesperson said.
Other House Republicans were damning of Eastman. Wasilla Rep. Jesse Sumner, who ran against Eastman in 2020 when they were in the same House district, said Eastman should be expelled from the Legislature.
Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said he voted to censure Eastman because he doesn’t speak much, and that actions speak louder than words. Fellow Anchorage Rep. Julie Coulombe said that “words have meaning” and that the rhetoric Eastman used, reflects on the Legislature as a whole.
It remains unclear whether the state House will take further action against Eastman. He has been rebuffed from joining the House majority caucus and is not a member of the Democrat-dominated House minority. As a legislator serving alone, he is not entitled to membership on any legislative committees.
Vance said Tuesday that she wanted Eastman to stay on the powerful House Judiciary Committee due to his different “thought process.” Vance did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday whether her position had changed after the censure vote.
Eastman recently faced a court challenge after a former constituent said his membership in the far-right Oath Keepers made him ineligible to hold office in Alaska. An Anchorage judge ruled in Eastman’s favor, allowing the Wasilla lawmaker to return to the House to serve his fourth term. Legislative hearings were held into his Oath Keepers membership last year, but no action was taken against him.
In 2017, Eastman became the first Alaska House member to be censured in state history, after he claimed that women in rural villages try to get pregnant so they can get a free trip to the city for an abortion. He is now the first and only state legislator to have been censured twice.