The Alaska House of Representatives did not take action on Monday on a proposal to punish Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman for his membership in the Oath Keepers organization. The Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes has been charged with seditious conspiracy for his actions related to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The Anchorage Daily News reported last week that members of the largely Democratic majority caucus were discussing whether Eastman violated a provision of the state constitution. It 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 of the State” from holding public office.
Earlier in the day on Monday, a committee voted to recommend the punishment, but House leaders held off on taking a vote after Eastman objected. He raised a concern that any action related to the select committee on legislative ethics was legally required to be taken separately.
Minority leader Rep. Cathy Tilton said her caucus was ready to vote on the floor on Monday. She said members weren’t given any written information about why the majority leaders planned to punish Eastman. She said he hasn’t been afforded due process.
“I believe that when you start to look at what memberships a person may belong to, it’s a very slippery slope that the Legislature is considering setting a precedent for,” she said.
Eastman has called the recent indictments of Rhodes and other Oath Keepers leaders “politically driven.”
Eastman attended the protest that preceded the riot at the Capitol. He has said that he didn’t enter the building. He has not been charged with any crimes related to the insurrection and no evidence has emerged to link him to the riot.
Rhodes and 18 other members of the Oath Keepers were charged on Jan. 13. The federal indictment said they plotted to disrupt the electoral process and endangered former Vice President Mike Pence. Eastman told NPR in an interview in October that he didn’t support any of the actions related to the storming of the Capitol.
Eastman was listed as a “life member” of the Oath Keepers in a list an anonymous hacker purportedly took from the Oath Keepers’ web servers. In a social media post on Sunday, Eastman said his connection with the Oath Keepers was slight, that he applied for membership more than a dozen years ago and never attended a meeting.
Eastman serves on the House rules, judiciary, state affairs committees, as well as the special committee on ways and means. He also is an alternate on the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics.
The federal indictment described the Oath Keepers as “a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias.” It said “some members of the Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
House members didn’t debate Eastman’s status. But in floor remarks, members from both caucuses indirectly referred to the issue.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz is a member of the majority. She said the country has lasted because of the strength of its institutions, free and fair elections. She read the oath of office legislators take.
“I thought it was important to remember this office that we’re called to, to sort of inspire us to remember that our duty is always first to our country and to our state, and everything else comes after that,” she said.
Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter is a member of the minority. He talked about the importance of the first amendment freedoms of speech and of association.
“And I think on this day, of all days, maybe we should continue to think about if you can remove somebody from a position because you don’t like what they say or what they think,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time … before somebody else gets removed, from some other non-popular topic.”
Eastman is in his third term in the House. In 2017, he became the first member of the chamber to be censured after he said that some women – including those who live in villages – are glad to become pregnant so they can receive Medicaid-funded travel to have abortions.
The House tabled action on the motion to remove Eastman from committees. That means the action was postponed but could be taken up again later.
This story has been updated to clarify the action taken by the House and to add reaction from lawmakers.