FREE SPEECH BREAKS OUT ALL OVER IN THE CAPITOL
It’s a free-speech moment in Juneau. A far-right Republican has been freely speaking his mind, and Democrats are freely condemning him. Even Republicans are piling on.
Today’s Rep. David Eastman controversy: Abortion paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid.
Four House Democrats are demanding an apology from Eastman, a Republican from Wasilla, for his comments about Alaska village women using pregnancies to get themselves free trips to the city for abortions.
In Alaska, when people say “village,” they mean Native Alaskan from small towns off the road system. The story was so juicy that it hit the New York Times late Friday.
Now, Eastman’s own House Republican colleagues have distanced themselves from Eastman’s remarks and say he should apologize.
This isn’t the first time Eastman has been shut down. The previous week, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux refused to allow Eastman to offer a pro-life amendment in committee. He later was allowed to add it and this latest controversy erupted when he was explaining his amendment on the House floor on Friday.
Must Read Alaska spoke to several veteran lawmakers and none could remember a public apology being demanded by either the majority or minority caucus. This may be a first in Alaska state legislative history when members — in writing — demanded an apology from another member.
Four members of the House majority — all Democrats — signed a letter Friday demanding the apology. They included House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, and three Native-dominated-district House members: Zach Fansler, District 38; Dean Westlake, District 40; and Neal Foster, District 39. Westlake and Foster are Native; Edgmon, District 37, also identifies as Native.
The House minority Republicans caucused late Friday evening and then, after trying to get Eastman to back down, issued a tersely worded statement that said Eastman should apologize.
Eastman is a freshman who bumped off Republican Wes Keller for the job of representing District 10, one of the most conservative neighborhoods in Alaska. While his colleagues may not like what he says, he is not beholden to them, but to his own constituents, just as Justin Parish, a far-left Democrat from Juneau, is beholden to his.
The Alaska Democratic Party is having a field day over Eastman’s comments on the House floor on Friday, launching an online petition to request the House Democrats officially censure Eastman.
Democratic Party chairwoman Casey Steinau also identified Eastman as her number one target for removal, but that’s mainly of a fund-raising ploy. It’s unlikely Democrats could find a candidate to beat Eastman unless they backed a Republican. Eastman won his district with 74.5 percent of the vote. Two years earlier, Wes Keller had won that seat in the general election with 64 percent over a Democrat and a nonpartisan.
It’s widely discussed in medical circles that rural Alaskans take flights to Anchorage for medical appointments and then don’t show up at those appointments, but have their entire trips paid for by Medicaid, returning home with boxes filled with Costco purchases. The evidence is anecdotal, mainly coming from stories from medical professionals and pilots who make the runs from Anchorage to various villages.
But to state that women get pregnant so they can get a free trip to the city is a new twist. The outrage it sparked indicates that, at the very least, Democrats and Republicans agree that pregnancy is an important event that is unlike most other medical circumstances.
Yet it’s hard to see how Eastman can win in the court of public opinion unless he has evidence to prove that women have purposefully become pregnant so they could have a trip to the city for an abortion; such a person might require mental health assistance.
For the freshman lawmaker, it’s a lesson in being sure that what he says on the record has good documentation to back it up. Because, although free speech is protected, it’s going to come right back at him if he’s loose with facts on the floor of the House.
While Eastman is beholden only to his constituents, losing credibility with his own caucus would make it difficult for him to represent them effectively.