Embattled Alaska House Republican stripped of committee assignment

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Jan. 23—Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman, the only member of the Alaska House who belongs to neither the majority nor the minority, was stripped Monday of his only committee assignment after he pushed last week for the Legislature to vote on overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy's veto of $87 million in education funding.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, also a Republican, said after the vote that the House Judiciary Committee seat that had been occupied by Eastman was allocated to a majority member "and there was a member who chose to want to take that seat, so we just swapped them up."

Tilton said the decision was not related to Eastman's push for lawmakers to vote on whether to override the governor's veto — a vote that the House majority Republicans sought to avoid.

"Nobody even thought about that," she said.

Eastman has long attracted controversy in the Alaska Legislature for his uncompromising right-wing views.

He was removed from the Republican House minority caucus in 2022 for "disruptive" behavior, stripping him of some of his committee assignments. In 2020, the minority caucus suspended him from some committees after conflicts with fellow Republicans. Last year, he was not offered a place in the Republican-dominated House majority, but was given a single committee seat.

Eastman often finds himself alone as the only lawmaker to vote against legislation. But when Eastman called for a joint session to consider overriding Dunleavy's veto of around $87 million in education funding, he found himself in alignment with the mostly Democratic House minority caucus. Eastman said that though he supported Dunleavy's cuts to spending on K-12 public schools, the state constitution required lawmakers to meet and vote on whether to override the governor's vote.

[Alaska House Republicans advance education bill over strong opposition from teachers and parents]

For years, lawmakers had largely treated the provision in the state constitution on veto override votes as an option, rather than a requirement. Dunleavy, a Republican, has regularly used the veto pen during his tenure to make cuts to the state's spending plan.

After Eastman insisted the constitution was clear about the Legislature's obligation, a nonpartisan legislative attorney agreed with that assessment. House majority Republicans then relented to requests for a joint session despite their original opposition.

The vote on overriding the governor's veto, which requires a three-quarters majority to pass, failed in a 33-26 split during a joint session on Thursday. House majority Republicans voted against the override, despite having supported the funding boost in floor votes last year.

The removal of Eastman from the Judiciary Committee was announced on the House floor Monday with no explanation after a meeting of the committee on committees, which determines committee assignments. It was adopted in a 39-1 vote, with Eastman the only one opposed to the change.

"The only thing that I've been told by anyone in the majority about the vote that we just took recently is that my decision last week did not help majority members in voting to keep me on the Judiciary Committee, and that's unfortunate," Eastman said on the House floor.

While on the Judiciary Committee, Eastman voted in line with majority members, including on legislation related to elections, public safety and proposed changes to the state constitution.

He was replaced on the committee by Rep. Jesse Sumner, a fellow Wasilla Republican who previously ran unsuccessfully against Eastman — promising to work more collaboratively with other lawmakers — before district lines were redrawn and Sumner won a seat in a neighboring district.

Eastman said that he was appointed to the Judiciary Committee last year at the request of majority members, and he had originally declined the request because he was concerned the committee membership would be used as "extortion."

"We've seen it done so many times in the past," said Eastman.

"The majority responded to me that under no circumstances would there be extortion. Under no circumstance would I be removed from that committee," said Eastman.

On the House floor, Eastman said he is committed "to pay any price and bear any burden to be able to advocate on behalf of the interests" of his constituents.

"If you want to leverage my staff or my committee assignments to get me to do something that my constituents do not want, is not in their best interests, my answer is no, every time," he said.

Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed from Juneau.