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Tuesday, April 7, 2020
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Legislature’s response to coronavirus is predictable, and irresponsible

By REP. DAVID EASTMAN

The mess in our Legislature in Juneau today is far greater than any one legislator will be able to fix, but that does not mean that every single legislator should not be working earnestly today to do their part to fix it. I am committed to doing my part, day in and day out, which sets me at odds with the status quo in Juneau.

When I first expressed concern about the coronavirus in January, I cautioned those in Juneau and other parts of the state to take this virus seriously. The response was sadly predictable. The response from ADN and the political blogs was to mock the one legislator who was willing to call attention to it at the time.

When I wrote in January about the censorship of doctors in China, who were trying to warn their countrymen about the disease, there was still significant reluctance to talking about it in the state capitol building.

When I highlighted the first discussion about the virus in the U.S. Senate, and then passed on advice that “The Time to Prepare is NOW” on February 3rd, Juneau was still not ready to take this virus seriously.

I responded by simply reminding the critics that “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)

It is a very familiar progression, as it is a path that I have walked down many times since first becoming a legislator. We walked down that path for three long years in the effort to repeal SB91. We were repeatedly told that it was impossible, that there was no stopping it, that we would simply have to let SB91 “run its course”, that those in Juneau who supported it were too powerful. Thankfully, there were some in Juneau (including then Sen. Mike Dunleavy) who were willing to persevere anyway, and SB91 is now repealed.

I have been walking a similar path with the Coronavirus for the last two months, and we have now reached the point where the crisis of the coronavirus is now accepted as being self-evident everywhere; everywhere except Juneau that is.

To Juneau, everything is political. The political angle is the focus. Everything else is blurry. This is what is meant when you hear someone say that those in Juneau are blind. It’s not actual blindness, it’s simply an extreme case of tunnel-vision. This becomes painfully clear with something as tangible and as terrible as the coronavirus. It is coming. We know it is coming. It is coming to Juneau, just as it is coming to any community in Alaska that maintains passenger traffic with other parts of the state and nation.

And yet, the legislature has literally done nothing to prepare for the arrival of the virus in Juneau. If the coronavirus were to be identified in the capitol building this morning, unlike legislatures in other states, the Alaska Legislature has no contingency for how to conduct business without assembling all legislators together into a single room.

The White House has advised all Americans to avoid groups of more than ten people due to the extremely contagious nature of the coronavirus. The response in Juneau has largely been “it won’t happen to me”, and so, other than shutting the capitol building to the public, we have largely continued with business as usual.

Each day, the House of Representatives assembles, as usual, putting more than 50 people in the same room, a number of whom are senior legislators in the 70’s.

Yesterday, the entire Georgia legislature was urged to self-quarantine after a Georgia senator tested positive for the coronavirus. Do we think this won’t happen here?

Over the last ten days, we have debated bills on electric bicyclesnotaries, and changing the name of a road. This is Juneau. You aren’t dreaming; this is what it’s really like. While other nations are enduring conditions not seen since World War II, we have prioritized debating a new law for electric bicycles.

I’m sure, simply for writing this, my colleagues in the legislature will be looking for new ways to punish and silence me, but if no one has the courage to call a spade a spade, legislators will continue to walk the streets of Juneau wearing little more than the invisible clothes that exist only in their imagination.

The first item of business when the legislature gathers today should be passage of a bill that establishes legal authority for the legislature to conduct business without physically assembling more than 50 people in the same room. That’s it. That should be our first order of business. No exceptions.

Other states have passed similar bills. Why not Alaska?

It hasn’t happened in Alaska yet because doing so would deprive some legislators of a helpful excuse to rush their favorite bills through the process unvetted.

Juneau is so hopelessly mired in politics today that, rather than spur the legislature to action, the threat of the virus is simply seen as a political tool to accomplish old political agendas. Last week, it was used as an excuse to push through an absolutely awful “mental health budget” (what fighting against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision has to do with mental health is your guess as well as mine), and was used yesterday as an excuse to pass the largest supplemental budget in state history, only a small fraction of which had anything to do with responding to the coronavirus.

Juneau needs help today. It needs concerned Alaskans to take note of the mind-boggling decisions that legislators are making. It needs concerned Alaskans willing to ask legislators the hard questions that few in Juneau seem willing to ask. And when legislators offer unsatisfactory answers, it needs individual Alaskans who won’t take a non-answer for an answer and, when the time comes, will be willing to vote against maintaining the status quo in Juneau.

Perhaps most of all, Alaska needs a handful of good men and women who are willing to make the personal sacrifice to take a tour of duty and deploy to Juneau for six months or more each year to protect their neighbors from the damaging, long-term decisions the legislature will continue to make if they do not. Otherwise, the status quo will continue.

It didn’t have to be this way. But it is. So let’s deal with it and each do our part to fix this mess.

Rep. David Eastman represents District 10, Wasilla.

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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.

Latest comments

  • Hear, hear…well said, Mr. Eastman! I think you and I are the only people left in this country who know the story (and the moral) of The Emperor’s New Clothes! (The rest of you should Google the story and take note of the moral to the story…it is an old children’s story and always appropriate).

  • David,
    I watch you during the sessions and have to admit I admire your ability to stay silent when there is so much stupidity flying through the legislative air.
    Ben Carpenter is our Representative and we so wish we could “clean house” and replace the old guard with more like the two of you.
    Stay strong.

  • David, thank you. It takes cajones to stand up to a group like that. If you were able to have whistleblower protections you should have it. I hope the people of Wasilla remember it was you that have sounded the first hand knowledge of our legislative body being out of control. Most people that have worked for the State understands what you are saying as the leadership in the State needs heavily adjusted. Wake up, people of Alaska, and help make the difference in November.

  • How did this bill involve the Janus decision? I’m unclear.

  • The difference between a Statesman and politicians, perfectly articulated.

  • Well said, Rep Eastman. The President of the Senate and Speaker of the House will not like you speaking the truth. Knowing their propensity for vengeance you may have to pay a price for your honesty. Hopefully the voters in their districts will see them for whom they are: dishonest and vindictive people who have no business representing anyone!

  • Thank you, Suzanne Downing, for publishing this piece, a piece of an ever more apparent truth that is emerging. Our political system is in dire need of some much needed change, and it is analyses like the one above that will get that going ! Again, thank you !

  • Good job Rep Eastman, and know that those throwing stones all live in Glass houses and only throw small stones because the lack the strength to pickup larger ones. Both the Senate President and the House speaker have lobbed some of those stones straight up and now are seeing them fall on themselves!!!

  • Ah, yes. Sir Rep. Eastman riding into the picture on his white horse, tablets of righteousness carried in his left hand, sword of vengeance in his right.
    It is meet and right that it be so. Let the strong trample the weak, for they shall not inherit anything, and let the wisdom passed down solely to me, Sir Knight Eastman, prevail in our time of need.
    Lord deliver us from this unChristian charlatan.

    • Oh gimme a break. Easy to see whose ox is being gored here. Highly oxymoronic of you to use your pseudo religion to take a good man to task.

      Thank you Mr. Eastman, for all you do.

    • Greg R. Very funny. But now it is time for you to go back to the home and take your meds.

  • Mr. Eastman. I object to your frequent references to Juneau being the problem. By my count there is one senator and two representatives from Juneau in the Capitol building. So the problem legislators you refer to are coming from all over Alaska, correct? There are a lot of good people in our Capitol City. Many of us agree with you on certain issues, but it doesn’t help your arguments when you keep labeling our community as the problem. Please keep that in mind.

    • When the legislature meets someplace other than Juneau, you might have a point. As it stands, the legislature meets only in Juneau, which is home to RINO’s, lobbyists, union shills, and Leftists, whose only job it is to feed their desire for power. Therefore, Juneau is the problem because the entire town exists to feed and to feed off of the corruption. Denying the problem does not alter the fact.

      • Go through the lists of top union shills, lobbyists and leftist. A significant portion are from Anchorage. The power brokers do not live in Juneau. This town has a tremendous amount of blue collar, retail, and visitor industry jobs. These are the people of Juneau. Not the scum you refer to. This is a good town with dirty business going on in the capitol building. Those players are not the people of Juneau.

    • Move the government to interior, and Juneau will become a sleepy fishing town, like Sitka did.

  • @Dave, the mental health budget passed by the legislature is here: http://www.akleg.gov/PDF/31/Vetoes/HB206.pdf#page=4

    This bill was opposed by Rep. Mike Prax and I.

    You will find on Page 4 of the mental health budget that the legislature sought to prohibit the Dunleavy Administration from implementing the United States Supreme Court decision, Janus v. AFSCME (dealing with the right of state employees not to pay union dues).

    They did so by placing part of the Department of Law’s budget into the Mental Health Budget.

    Governor Dunleavy had to veto more than $100,000 from the Department of Law’s budget in order to remove this restriction from the mental health budget.

    Bottom line: Supporters of the bill tried to call it a coronavirus bill. It wasn’t. They simply sprinkled coronavirus on top of an already bad bill to give cover to the legislators who voted for it, and to blame those of use who opposed it for being heartless conservatives.

    • Thanks!

  • @Elena, I am always encouraged when I meet a conservative in Juneau. Unfortunately, that is quite rare. At present, none of the legislators from Juneau make the list. For better and for worse, the problem is in Juneau today (and I can’t blame other good communities throughout Alaska who hope it stays there). I might be more sympathetic to the point you raise if more residents in Juneau wanted to distance themselves from the legislature. Unfortunately, those who live in Juneau want to maintain a death grip on the legislature. Perhaps that is because the precinct where our capitol building is located voted more than 5 to 1 in favor of Hillary Clinton in the last general election, and they value that type of constant influence upon all legislators, no matter which part of the state they travel from. Yes, there are some conservatives and other good people in Juneau. No, Juneau is neither conservative nor a good influence on the state at the current juncture.

    • You can’t paint the whole community based on percentage of votes in the downtown district. There’s a ton of liberals in Juneau – I will admit. But there are about 800 people who work for the mine. There are tons of small businesses trying to succeed. Ignoring percentages and looking at raw numbers, far more Alaskans in Anchorage voted for Hillary. So the rate of infection may be higher here, but the number of infected is much higher in Central Alaska. Juneau is less than 5% of the state population. This town is not the problem. Start focusing on where the real problems are. It’s individuals, not my community. Stop bashing my town.

    • On another note, I have spent my entire life observing Alaska politics. I have had an front row seat with some real power players over the years. I’ve also seen a few like you come along – you are the kind of person I’d like to get to know and talk issues with – we’d probably agree on many things, especially social issues. But I’ve also seen those good and principled people use your style before and it doesn’t work. They burned bridges instead of building them. Their political days were numbered because they couldn’t see that the best interests of the state were sometimes incompatible with their personal beliefs. You’ve got to find common ground and treat the people around you with respect – even if their ways are despicable to you. I get riled up when I see some of the games going on, but that’s probably why I’m not a representative. You’ve got to move past obstruction and into negotiation. The art of persuasion is guiding vital truths around another’s mental roadblocks. I hope you can take a close look at your approach, and then start to rebuild some of those bridges and begin to gradually change the course of our great state. I love Alaska with every fiber of my being – and Southeast means just as much to me as the Valley does to you. There should be no battles between regions or communities. What we need are good people who can take ideas and goals from concept to completion. And we need careful surgery on our State’s problems, not amputations. Small steps add up to successful journeys.

      • IMO – You can’t protect the community from rabid dogs by becoming a rabid dog.
        “Working within the system” instead of destroying it never works.
        Alaska’s government is full of the very evil, the very stupid, and the very ineffectual.
        They get voted into office by the very evil, the very stupid, and the very ineffectual.
        The few good ones don’t have an ice cube’s chance, won’t ever have a chance, until we quit voting for the ones who most closely resemble ourselves.
        What state did you migrate to Alaska from? I bet you always vote for anyone who came from the same or similar area. The one you feel most comfortable with.
        Our government isn’t the problem, we are!

    • In the Anchorage Districts it was 48K votes for Hillary and 48K votes for Trump. In Juneau it was 9K for Hillary and 6K for Trump. There were many people all over our state who are blind to the evil and corruption that is Hillary Clinton. Is Juneau a worse place than Anchorage because we had a 60/40 split? What I’m asking of you is a shift in tactics. Point out the corruption where you see it, but please stop attacking my community.

      • People are no more attacking your community when they say the problem is in Juneau anymore than they’re attacking the Chinese community when they say Chinese Virus.

  • Representative Eastman,
    Thank goodness someone in Alaska’s legislature has the moral and intestinal fortitude to speak the truth. I’m sure you will be harangued throughout the halls of gov’t by those in opposition to your comments. I completely agree with you and your stance on what Alaska and Alaskan communities and citizens need to do immediately to preserve the aggregate welfare of the citizens and businesses negatively affected by the Chinese virus. Of course, the liberal democrats, in opposition to sanity, will naysay and vilify you for having the nerve to suggest cutting the historically high spending on the state level. They will spend, borrow and “appropriate” citizens’ and State of Alaska livelihoods in their quest for leftist domination of all things American and Alaskan. They don’t seem to care one whit for their constituents.

  • We need to move the legislature to Anchorage and away from Juneau. We need to vote the Senate President and the Speaker of the House and their loyalists out of office. We have our own “Swamp” right here in Alaska and they are betraying their responsibilities to the citizens of Alaska. Kathy Giessel is a major disappointment to the conservatives in her district.

  • Well said, Dave.

  • Your last two paragraphs were amazing, David. Best compliment will be how often they’re quoted or, well, plagiarized.
    .
    Let’s have a moment of silence for our first deployment casualty: Senator Josh Revak, lost March 2, 2020, fell to the dark-side forces of Peoples Imperial Senate President and Co-Governor Giessel, by voting to double Alaska’s motor-fuel tax.
    .
    Sad…

  • Kerry, I wish to dispute your statement. By any measure Anchorage is far more leftist than Juneau. Look at the Mayor and Assembly of Anchorage. I would note that the Assembly meetings in Anchorage are sparsely attended also. The problem isn’t merely geographic, the problem is that from every corner of the State , leftist have been elected.

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