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Dems target Alaska Native woman lawmaker

Rep. Charisse Millett speaks on the House floor on May 10, rebuking the comments of Rep. David Eastman but defending his constitutional right to free speech.

In a ironic turn of events, Alaska Democrats are now attacking a Native Alaska woman lawmaker for not voting to censure a fellow lawmaker for insensitive comments about Native women.

The Alaska Democratic Party sent a fundraising email describing Mat-Su Rep. David Eastman’s  “relentless attacks on women, particularly from the Alaska Native community, as well as black soldiers that built the Al-Can highway, and Hmong soldiers that fought for the US in the Viet Nam War. These comments embarrassed our state and made national headlines.”

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Eastman had implied that women in rural Alaska were using pregnancy to get a free trip to the city, as part of his argument that abortion is a form of child abuse. It has been broadly interpreted by Democrats to mean Alaska Native women. He voted against a resolution singling out African-American construction workers and he voted against a specialty license plate singling out Hmong soldiers.

But the Democrats’ fundraising appeal took it a step further and attacked Rep. Charisse Millett, House Minority leader from Anchorage, for not voting to censure Eastman, as many Democrat House members did on May 10.

The Alaska House is controlled by a Democrat-led caucus. Millett, who is part Alaska Native, is a Republican from District 25, a more liberal district than Eastman’s. Alaska Democrats know that she’s in a vulnerable seat, and came close to removing her during the 2016 cycle. She won her seat by just a 79-vote lead over Democrat challenger Pat Higgins, in what was the narrowest victory in the 2016 legislative election.

Jay Parmley, executive director of the Democrats, asked readers to “Give $5 today so we can replace Rep. Millett in 2018.”

To deepen the irony, Parmley, who was hired by Alaska Democratic Party late last year to replace Kay Brown, has a long record of women and men accusing him of sexual harassment. He was also accused by an ex-girlfriend of infecting her with HIV. Follow this Must Read Alaska link for media audit on Parmley.

Last week, Millett spoke about why she would not vote to censure Eastman, even though she was repelled by his remarks.

“As Minority Leader, I apologize to the state of Alaska for his comments,” she said on the House floor. “Nobody in our caucus will defend him. With that said, Mr. Speaker, if this was a ‘sense of the House,’ I would be supporting it.

“Even if the member from District 10 doesn’t apologize, I forgive him, ” Millett said. “We talk about the right to free speech, and I think about what censure meant to this body, and as a matter of fact I haven’t found one we’ve done in this House.

“I think when we’re talking about our own body, we have to stop and think about what precedent we are setting. I don’t like what the member from District 10 said at all. It was awful. He has that right to say it under our Constitution. We have a right to take action against him. I want to make sure that our action is accurate…and what this body holds in the most egregious  things we can do as members…I think a ‘sense of the House’ would be more appropriate.

What happens, Mr. Speaker, and what are you willing to do the next time someone gets up on the floor and I find something incredibly offensive? Or in committee? Will you take a stand for me? Will you censure the person that has offended me? – Rep. Charisse Millett

“So while I absolutely am devastated by his speech, I think we should take seriously the step the member from District 16 [Ivy Spohnholz] is proposing by censuring one of our members,” Millett said. “We are setting a precedent here if we do this and we are challenging the constitutional right to speak, even if I hate what was spoken.”

Other lawmakers spoke on the floor of the House in favor of constitutionally protected speech, but for fundraising purposes, the Democrats have singled out Millett for removal. She has served in the House since 2008.

“The Democrats don’t like Native women to be Republicans,” Millett said in an interview.

Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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