Is it legal for an Alaska legislator to belong to the Oath Keepers? That’s what a trial will decide.

a person sitting at a table
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, co-hosts an Alaska Legislature listening session at the Anchorage Baptist Temple on Nov. 22, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

A trial is set to begin next week to determine whether Rep. David Eastman’s lifetime membership in the extremist Oath Keepers group disqualifies him to serve as a state legislator.

A voter named Randall Kowalke filed the legal challenge. It cites a provision in the state constitution that says people can’t hold public office if they belong to an organization that advocates overthrowing the federal government by force or violence.

Members of the Oath Keepers were prominent participants in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The group’s founder and another leader were recently convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Eastman’s lawyer, Joe Miller, argued in court that the convictions aren’t relevant. Among all the federal charges against Oath Keepers “none of them cite — not one of them — that any of these alleged Oath Keepers in any way attempted overthrow the government.”

Eastman, R-Wasilla, easily won reelection last month, but an order from Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna has prevented the Division of Elections from certifying his election while the case is pending.

The case has implications beyond who will represent District 27. The leadership of the state House is in limbo, and Eastman’s fate is one factor making it hard for either faction to organize a majority.

If he’s disqualified, second-place finisher Stuart Graham would be declared the winner. Graham is also a Republican, and if he’s seated, Republicans might have an easier time organizing. That’s because Eastman often clashed with his GOP colleagues. They kicked him out of their caucus in April and removed him from committees.

McKenna said he’d rule Friday on motions to dismiss the case but said the lawyers should plan to give their opening statements on Monday.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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