Ruling in Eastman trial won't be appealed, allowing the Oath Keeper to keep his seat
Randall Kowalke, the plaintiff who brought the case, said the ruling showed the Oath Keepers are dangerous, but that Eastman had "enough plausible deniability to escape disqualification."
Happy New Year, Alaska!
In this edition: Back from a much-needed hiatus to see the news that the decision in the trial against Rep. David Eastman will not be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. The attorney on the case says such an appeal would be a tall order given the factual findings that came out of Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna’s ruling. What it means for the Legislature. Also, the reading list.
Current mood: 🥂
Coming soon: A look back on 2022, a year that was just… a lot.
Decision in Eastman trial will not be appealed
The Wasilla voter who brought the lawsuit challenging Rep. David Eastman’s eligibility to hold office because of his membership in the Oath Keepers announced this morning he will not be appealing a decision that went in Eastman’s favor.
In December, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack McKenna found that Eastman and the Oath Keepers—an anti-government militia group whose leadership has been found guilty of seditious conspiracy for their involvement in Jan. 6—did meet the requirements for disqualification under the Alaska Constitution’s Red Scare-era disloyalty clause but that other First Amendment case law ultimately protected his association with the group.
The case was brought by Randall Kowalke and Northern Justice Project attorney Goriune Dudukgian, who argued that Eastman’s membership in the group should disqualify him from holding office.
Judge McKenna found the group rose to the level of advocating for or taking part in the attempted violent overthrow of the United States government, he found that Eastman would have had to have done more than just be a member. In his ruling, he found Eastman would have had to either joined the group with the understanding that it supported the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government or did more than just reach the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
While Eastman joined more than a decade ago—giving the group more than $1,000 for a lifetime membership and a t-shirt—and attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and marched to the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, he testified that he never went further than that and the plaintiffs struggled to present evidence that concretely countered that claim.
Dudukgian said that determination, which falls into the realm of the factual conclusions that aren’t easily challenged at the Alaska Supreme Court, played a factor in their decision.
“We have the greatest respect for Judge McKenna,” he said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “Although we think he made a mistake on whether or not Eastman had the specific intent to subvert our democracy, we also know our chances of getting this factual finding reversed on appeal are slim.”
In his prepared statement, Kowalke said he believed the case set a clear precedent moving forward.
“I felt that it was important to define our tolerance for this type of activity,” he said. “In the final analysis, the court agreed with us that the Oath Keepers is a dangerous organization but found that Rep. Eastman had enough plausible deniability to escape disqualification. But anyone who joins or continues to associate with the Oath Keepers after this ruling does so at his or her own peril.”
Eastman has never renounced his membership in the group or been critical of Oath Keepers leadership like founder Stewart Rhodes, who testified in the trial from a federal custody in Virginia.
Why it matters
As I’ve written before, Rep. David Eastman hasn’t exactly played nice with fellow legislators. His refusal to toe the party line—specifically not signing on with a binding caucus, which has proven necessary to get the budget across the finish line in recent years—was a large part of why the majority that Republicans announced the day after the 2018 election fell apart by the time legislators gaveled in in 2019.
While there are many Eastman-like legislators who’ve been elected since 2018, he still seems to have a knack for alienating his colleagues through pressure campaigns on issues like abortion and the budget. Booted out of the Republican minority at least twice, Eastman isn’t exactly a reliable vote or a selling point as Republicans’ hopes of a majority hinge on whether they can lure over members of the bipartisan coalition.
I’d imagine that there had to be some hope among House Republicans that Eastman would be shown the door—after all, several Republicans have previously campaigned against him—and replaced with a more pliable legislator.
While we have plenty of evidence at home about just how hard it is to govern with a narrow majority and/or a majority fractured between the right and the far-right, we can also look at the U.S. House where representatives called it a day after holding three failed votes to elect a speaker. Despite Republicans holding an outright majority, enough extreme-right, Eastman-like Republicans have refused to support GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy for the position, who actually lost ground by the third and final vote.
It’s made for a bruising day for the GOP, laying bare a lot of the party’s internal turmoil and divisions.
The Midnight Sun Memo by Matt Buxton is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The excellent reporting from KTOO’s Claire Stremple on Alaska’s food stamp backlog continued today with an illuminating look at how the months-long process is a totally expected result of cuts pushed by the Dunleavy administration. Via KTOO: State workers say chronic understaffing caused food stamp backlog
Ketchikan’s new-ish police chief is facing felony assault charges. from KRBD: Ketchikan police chief left victim bloodied after off-duty fishing resort brawl, indictment says
The city of Anchorage is still digging its way out of the December snowstorms and folks are getting tired of all the single-lane roads. From Alaska Public Media: Anchorage is still struggling to remove snow, weeks after a trio of winter storms
If you’ve listened to any State of the University addresses or listened in on pretty much any legislative hearing about the University of Alaska, you’ll probably have heard about the land grant that the land-grant university is still waiting for. That wait may finally be coming to an end. Via the Alaska Beacon: University of Alaska will gain land under new federal budget law
The judge needs some courage. What happened to integrity and honest transparency? Shame on you Eastman. Thanks for reporting this story, Matt. Must have been painful to watch.