Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, watches his fellow House members censure him by a 35-1 vote Wednesday. The censure, which came after he asked about potential economic benefits from the deaths of abused children, is the second for Eastman, the only House member ever reprimanded in such a manner. Eastman was the lone vote against the motion.(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, watches his fellow House members censure him by a 35-1 vote Wednesday. The censure, which came after he asked about potential economic benefits from the deaths of abused children, is the second for Eastman, the only House member ever reprimanded in such a manner. Eastman was the lone vote against the motion.(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Eastman gets 2nd censure for questions about dead abused children

Controversial Wasilla legislator causes uproar by asking if deaths offer economic benefits

State Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican who has faced multiple attempts to disqualify him from office for controversial actions, was censured Wednesday by the House by a 35-1 vote after asking during a committee hearing Monday about potential economic benefits from the deaths of abused children.

Eastman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, also was censured in 2017 after claiming women in rural villages try to get pregnant so they can get free trips to the city for abortions — the first and only other censure by the House. Efforts to remove him from office due to his lifetime membership in the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, a significant participant in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, were unsuccessful earlier this year.

The most recent uproar follows a House Judiciary Committee meeting where a presentation about child abuse impacts was offered by members of the Alaska Children’s Trust, who noted “the estimated lifetime cost (to the family and society) per victim of fatal child abuse and neglect is $1.5 million.” Eastman, in an exchange of remarks, suggested he’d heard arguments that child abuse resulting in fatalities can economically benefit society.

“In the case where child abuse is fatal, obviously it’s not good for the child, but it’s actually a benefit to society because there aren’t needs for government services and whatnot,” he said. “Over the course of that child’s life.”

“Can you say that again? Did you say ‘a benefit for society?’” Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, responded, calling the loss of such fatalities “immeasurable” for families.

Eastman, in one of his follow-up remarks, asked if the loss of a newborn is higher in value than a 6-month-old.

“Does that $1.5 million get higher or lower depending upon the age at which the child is killed?” he asked.

Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat seated next to Eastman at the committee meeting, said he and his husband adopted a child with a troubled past from the state’s foster care system and ”I would just say for me personally, my child is the greatest joy I’ve ever had — that there is no price tag on that.”

Another Anchorage Democrat, Rep. Cliff Groh, said he was “disturbed” by Eastman’s questions. Rep. Sarah Vance, a Homer Republican who chairs the committee, and two other committee members did not respond to Eastman’s remarks.

Eastman’s comments and video of the hearing spread quickly on social media and Gray made the censure motion on Wednesday, the first House floor session following the meeting.

“Over the years he has shown Alaska who he is, posting on his website a photo of himself standing next to a quote of Adolf Hitler calling for the extermination of people, and yet he has been reelected three times to his seat,” Gray said.

“He has brought great shame upon this House. It is incumbent upon all of us to do something.”

Vance, objecting to the censure motion and noting all legislators have freedom of speech “no matter how controversial or insensitive it may sound,” acknowledged she “should have been more sensitive toward members of my committee” after Eastman’s remarks.

“It was messy and insensitive, and I should have afforded an opportunity for clarification on the record at that time, and I did not do that,” she said.

Eastman, raising his own objection, said House rules prohibit comments that impugn the motives and/or character of other members, which he said Gray’s comments violated.

“This is exactly the kind of hateful rhetoric for which this rule was put into our rules so it would never happen in this House,” Eastman said. “I might think personally — and sometimes I do — that some of the things said and done in this body are done out of despicable motives, but the rule before us is that I have to interpret the action and words of this body as though they were made with motives that are pure.”

“The outrageous accusation that somehow I and members of my district support the extermination of people or support child abuse when I’ve staked my entire political career arguing for the opposite is not acceptable in this body.”

The vote, after Vance removed her objection and Eastman maintained his, was unanimous except for Eastman’s nay vote and four members with excused absences. Juneau Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story, both Democrats, were among the legislators voting for censure.

“There’s nothing more precious to anyone than their children,” Story said in an interview after the floor session, calling Eastman’s remarks “very painful.” When asked about Eastman’s habit of making controversial comments and a censure motion potentially giving them far wider exposure, she said “the House has to set decorum, set limits and set behaviors, and this is a way to do that.”

In an awkward aftermath, Gray and Eastman again found themselves sitting adjacent at another Judiciary Committee meeting shortly after the floor session. Vance briefly addressed the controversy at the beginning.

“I would like to remind members here that when we make messes we clean them up and I’m here to help with that,” she said. “I want as the chair to run a committee that is respectful to every member and to the public.

“This is a committee where we hear the weightiest of bills. Things are uncomfortable because crime is uncomfortable. So I’m going to give every member the freedom to ask questions and give clarification if there is a misunderstanding.”

The only other censures of Alaska legislators have been senators. George Hohman was censured in 1982 in relation to a bribery conviction that resulted in his expulsion, while George Jacko was censured in 1993 for sexually harassing teenage girls.

Eastman, in addition to the two censures and efforts to remove him from office, is also the only House member not affiliated with the majority or minority causes, due primarily to other Republican members declaring they are unable to work with him as part of a coalition. During a brief interview with reporters after the censure, Eastman defended his questioning of interest groups appearing with set agendas before legislators, and denounced what he called misguided condemnation against him.

“I think the accusations are outrageous because there is no truth in them whatsoever,” he said.

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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