JUNEAU — Alaska House leaders last Friday backed away from a proposal to strip committee assignments from a lawmaker who has acknowledged being a member of the far-right organization Oath Keepers. For now, they plan to hold at least one hearing on the group.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck said members had been prepared earlier this week to vote on the proposal but said it was “questionable” whether the votes were there to remove Republican Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla from committees.
Tuck described the planned hearing as informational, set to be held by the House Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee that Tuck chairs. He said the intent is to learn more about the group. He said there is “a lot of public attention towards this, so we’d just like to clear the air.”
“This is in no way setting the grounds for any type of action but trying to basically relieve pressure from going a little bit too far, too fast with the Committee on Committees,” Tuck said.
“We just want to be able to just let people learn what they want to learn, get as many angles and views from this, as much as possible, and then let the public decide,” said Tuck, D-Anchorage.
A leader of the Oath Keepers and other members or associates have been charged with seditious conspiracy related to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The leader who has been charged has entered a not guilty plea.
Eastman has said he did not condone the storming of the Capitol. He has said that he attended a Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington, D.C. for outgoing President Donald Trump but said he did not take part in the riot and he has not been accused of any crimes.
The Associated Press last year reported that more than a dozen lawmakers from at least nine states had come to Washington that day. One, a West Virginia lawmaker, resigned last year after he was charged with entering the U.S. Capitol.
Eastman has cast the current debate around him as an extension of “cancel culture.”
On Monday, the House Committee on Committees, meeting with little notice, voted 5-2 to remove him from committees. The dissenting votes were members of the Republican minority, of which Eastman is a part, Joe Plesha, communications director for the House’s bipartisan majority, has said.
A vote on the proposal that day by the full House was delayed after Eastman objected. Eastman said a vote affecting his role as an alternate on a legislative ethics committee needed to be handled separately.
The led to a lengthy break in the floor session before the proposal was tabled. Under legislative rules, it takes 21 votes to approve a report from the Committee on Committees. But Tuck said a two-thirds vote is needed to boot someone from the ethics committee.
He said some were surprised Eastman was on the committee. “Enough hesitation took place that it was again, questionable, whether or not that it would have passed or not passed,” Tuck said.
Tuck and House Speaker Louise Stutes are among the leaders on the House Committee on Committees. Stutes told reporters Friday that taking someone’s committee assignments from them “is a serious issue, and before we go down that avenue, we want to make sure we have thoroughly vetted the situation. That’s the right thing to do.”
Stutes, one of two Republicans in the bipartisan majority, said there was “maybe a little bit of a rush to try and address a situation that we should have taken a little slower process in doing. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
She also said the issue was becoming a distraction and that the situation would be vetted and addressed “one way or the other, and what that way is, I don’t know.”
This issue “has been on the front page far too long. We need to move forward with the state’s business,” she said.
Eastman, in brief comments to reporters Friday, said public notice and opportunities for the public to be involved as much as possible in legislative processes is important.