House censures Rep. Eastman for ‘village’ abortion comments

Lawmakers’ 25-14 decision is first of its kind in statehouse history

The Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to censure Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, for his recent comments claiming that some rural Alaska women become deliberately pregnant, and others delay abortions so they can get a “free to trip to Seattle” with Medicaid funds.

 

The 25-14 vote, brought by Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, means little on its own. It’s a stern statement that the subject of the motion has done something wrong and is worthy of discipline.

“There is nothing punitive beyond a rebuke of his statements,” Spohnholz said.

She added that even though the vote means nothing other than disapproval, that’s an important statement to make.

“The time for tolerating and allowing racism and sexism to continue in our state is past. … If we don’t do something, that is tacit approval,” Spohnholz said.

“It’s not about parties,” said Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue and one of the lawmakers who voted to censure. “It’s about your values. Is this the kind of representation the people of Alaska deserve? It’s not a minority thing. It’s not a majority thing. It’s a standards thing for the Representatives of the state of Alaska.”

Seventeen Democrats, two independents and six Republicans voted yes. Fourteen Republicans voted no. Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, was excused.

The furor over Eastman’s comments has been roiling the Legislature since he discussed his concerns about Medicaid funding for abortions and his belief that some Alaskans take advantage of the fact that limited medical facilities are available in rural Alaska.

“We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle,” he told Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer.

Eastman repeated a variation of those comments to Alaska Public Media and KTOO-FM reporter Andrew Kitchenman: “You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved.”

The term “village” has specific meanings under Alaska law, including an unincorporated community governed by a tribal council.

After Eastman’s comments, women and Alaska Native leaders across the state rose to oppose his statement.

On Tuesday, the Executive Council of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska issued a statement calling for Eastman’s censure and describing his comments as “venomous,” “racially-charged and misogynistic”. Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl also wrote a letter to the Empire condemning the remarks.

During floor debate Wednesday, Eastman apologized for his remarks and issued a press release simultaneous to his speech.

“I’m very sorry that I said them,” he said in an address of about 15 minutes.

“I do ask for forgiveness from any and every person who has been hurt by what I have said, and I look forward to talking and interacting and meeting with as many of those people that would be willing to meet with me and talk with me,” he added.

Others in the Legislature said they weren’t convinced that Eastman had actually apologized or was truly sorry for his words.

“I was looking for that short, specific, sincere apology, and it didn’t happen. It drifted into political messaging,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage.

Kopp and others casting “no” votes said that even though they found Eastman’s comments reprehensible, they don’t want the Legislature to become a regulator of free speech.

“We risk going down a dangerous road of censuring people for what they think,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.

House Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said her vote on the censure was agonizing, but “even if the member from District 10 doesn’t apologize, I forgive him.”

Wednesday’s action was unprecedented for the Legislature, which has typically worked through its ethics committees and processes.

According to the Legislature’s reference librarians and the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Alaska House has never censured one of its members before.

It was the first time the Legislature has censured any lawmaker on its own since 1994, when the Senate censured Sen. George Jacko after an ethics investigation found Jacko abused his office to seek sexual favors from legislative staff.

In 1997, the House voted to sanction (a lower level of discipline) Rep. Jerry Sanders after he sent a political mailing at government expense, then refused to work with the Legislature’s citizen-led ethics panel.

Motion to censure Rep. Eastman

Yeas - 25

Rep. Matt Claman, R-Anchorage

Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, R-Dillingham

Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage

Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks

Rep. Delena Johnson, R-Palmer

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage

Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks

Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau

Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Soldotna

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage

Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage

Rep. Dean Westlake, D-Kotzebue

Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks

Nays - 14

Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla

Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage

Rep. George Rauscher, R-Palmer

Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River

Rep. Dan Sadler, R-Eagle River

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla

Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole

Excused - 1

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski


Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


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