TRIGGER WARNING: THIS MAY HURT FEELINGS
The writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall in Friends of Voltaire wrote, ” I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The Alaska House of Representatives didn’t get the Hall memo.
Rep. David Eastman was today censured by the House for his remarks in an official capacity about the abuse of Medicaid and abortion by some women in Alaska.
He endured more than an hour of being called racist and sexist by Democrats on the House floor. And when the vote came down, it was 25 to 14 telling him just how hateful his colleagues think he is.
A handful of Republicans voted to censure Eastman, along with all of the Democrats and both of the Indie-Democrats.
Times have changed since Hall wrote the defense of speech in 1903. Feelings are now easily hurt. Political speech is no longer protected in Alaska’s Capitol unless it’s “correct” speech.
Freedom of conscience, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, and the freedom to represent your constituency — these are things legislators now may be scolded for on the floor of the House of Representatives.
No Republican will be able to raise the issue of Medicaid abuse under this regime, or even ask for hearings on the topic. The topic of medical tourism on the public dime has been made toxic.
Freshman Rep. Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage labeled David Eastman’s remarks as “hate speech,” and his actions as part of a “hate agenda.”
The term “hate agenda” has been widely used by the Left to describe the presidency of Donald Trump.
Spohnholz, an East Anchorage Democrat, lashed out at Eastman on the House floor, saying he had not apologized enough for his remarks about the abuse of Medicaid payments for travel by rural Alaskan women. He had not atoned for how much he had hurt people’s feelings, she said.
“A leader takes responsibility and ownership for those mistakes,” Spohnholz said. “They acknowledge the impact they’ve had on somebody else’s life, their feelings, their thoughts. They own them, and then they make amends. How do you make amends? You don’t say, ‘I’m really sorry that that made you feel bad.’ That is not making amends. Making amends needs to go a little bit further. You don’t say ‘You’re welcome to come to my office, and share your concerns and your perspective with me.’ That is not making amends.”
She went on: “When you make amends, you are internalizing the hurt that you inflicted on someone else. You have to go to the people that you’ve hurt and you have to try to understand their perspective and make it right. It means to mend, to put things back together again.”
In other words, legislators must give up their points of view in order to satisfy Spohnholz. She will be the one to determine what constitutes an apology.
Rep. Geran Tarr, another Anchorage Democrat, stated that Eastman not only said the wrong things, but he also voted the wrong way, and this showed pattern of bad belief and bad behavior. Eastman had voted against a resolution recognizing African-American contributions to the construction of the Alaska Highway, and against special license plates for Hmong veterans. The Hmong license plate bill was sponsored by Tarr.
During the discussion on those votes, Eastman said he is fundamentally opposed to race-based legislation. It is a matter of principle for him.
This afternoon Eastman was circumspect about his political learning curve: “I’ve never judged someone by the color of their skin. I wasn’t brought up that way,” he said. “Race politics is not a pleasant learning subject.”
On the floor as part of her closing remarks, Spohnholz said it was not about free speech. She called him racist and sexist, and said he had not taken responsibility for his behavior.
“Some people said, there was not bad behavior,” Spohnholz argued. “I’m going to disagree.” She went on to say that Eastman had made statements not only to a reporter, but then “…Our colleague doubled down on it and called for hearings. He brought that behavior into this hall.”
It’s the first time in Alaska state history that a House member has been censured, which is a nonbinding vote that indicates disapproval.
LEDOUX, RULES CHAIR, REMAINS SILENT
Earlier this year, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, House Rules chair, advised members they may not use the terms “bureaucrat” or “slush fund.” Those terms were derogatory, she said.
She has made a habit of calling for points of order and preventing Republicans from speaking on the House floor, citing various infractions.
But today, LeDoux did not intervene while House members repeatedly impugned the motives of one of their colleagues.
The vote to censure has a chilling effect on free speech when a public body acts to curtail the speech of one of its members, said Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party. It is a governing body sending a stern warning shot over the bow of a fellow legislator, with an inference that other penalties could follow if the lawmaker does not toe the line.
“This is a bizarre step to try to repress someone’s freedom of speech, of thought, and even how they vote,” said Babcock.
“This is about public process,” said Eastman in an interview with Must Read Alaska. “I thought we were all Alaskans. I now know that some people believe that race separates us.”
House Republicans had already condemned the comments made by Eastman to a media outlet last week, with a brief statement that said his remarks on Medicaid and women seeking abortions had no factual basis and targeted women from rural parts of the state.
Today, the Republican minority issued a statement that said it still doesn’t like what he said, but members defended his right to speak out on issues that concern him:
“Never in the history of the Alaska House of Representatives has there been censure of a member. Censure is reserved for conduct that is damaging and disruptive to the legislative process or implicates a criminal act or ethical violation. Reprimanding a legislator for words spoken sets a dangerous precedent and infringes on freedom of speech.
“House Republicans continue to stand firmly opposed to the comments and sentiments expressed by Representative Eastman. Discrimination will not be tolerated by House Republicans. We will continue to embrace the diversity and spirit that makes our state stronger.”