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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-7732.