Alaska House temporarily strips Eastman of committee roles

The Alaska House voted Thursday to remove Republican Rep. David Eastman.

The Alaska House voted last Thursday to remove Republican Rep. David Eastman from his committee assignments, at least temporarily, suggesting a breaking point within his GOP caucus after recent dust-ups.

The caucus leader, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, said it will be up to Eastman to “work with others to show them he wants to be a strong member of the team.” Pruitt anticipated revisiting the issue in a month.

Eastman, an outspoken conservative from Wasilla, said he saw the vote as making an example out of him “so that others don’t step out of line, don’t take a position that others aren’t in agreement with, that sort of thing.”

He will be replaced on the House Judiciary Committee by Rep. Sarah Vance and the House Rules Committee by Rep. DeLena Johnson. Vance and Johnson are fellow minority Republicans.

Pruitt said he wasn’t interested in getting into all the details that led to the action against Eastman but said things had happened publicly and privately. He said concerns were raised with how some issues were framed on Eastman’s website and whether those “brought value to the institution.”

“Finally, people felt that we were at a point that we needed to take action,” Pruitt said in an interview.

Thursday’s vote, which was to accept a report making the committee reassignments, was 32-1, with Eastman the lone dissent. Seven members, including six from the minority Republican caucus, were absent or excused.

Eastman said he thought members were free to represent their districts, such as on a resolution that urged the minting of at least 5 million $1 coins honoring the late Alaska civil rights figure Elizabeth Peratrovich and efforts by the U.S. Treasury secretary to encourage businesses to accept the coins. Eastman was the Legislature’s lone vote against it. He said his district opposed it.

He described the measure in a post on his website under the header: “Juneau Swamp Shocker.” In another post, he called it a “big government program that has zero chance of success no matter how much money you spend on it.” The resolution was sponsored by Johnson, one of the minority’s leaders.

He argued a recent vote by House Republicans to confirm the House’s newest member, Rep. Mike Prax, should have been public, a position Pruitt did not agree with. Such votes typically have been held privately.

Eastman also frayed nerves during a recent floor debate when he proposed stripping from a budget bill funding for a legal judgment for a case the state lost to Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

Eastman tried to get into details from the case, despite Speaker Bryce Edgmon’s admonitions to stick to the budget issue.

When debate resumed after a break, Pruitt said the vote on the question had nothing to do with one’s position on abortion but whether the state would uphold an obligation to pay the sum. Eastman was alone in voting to strip the funds.

He was censured by the House in 2017 for comments he made suggesting there are women in Alaska who try to get pregnant to get a “free trip to the city” for abortions. Eastman, who has expressed concerns about use of state funds and Medicaid for abortions, said he was sorry for the comments.

In 2018, a legislative ethics panel said it found Eastman had violated ethics law by disclosing the existence of a complaint that was considered confidential. Eastman denied the allegation.