TWO THREATS, TWO DIFFERENT RESPONSES
When Rep. David Eastman was censured by the Majority of the House of Representatives in May of 2017, it’s because he set off a firestorm of indignation over his remarks about the use of Medicaid by rural residents.
Rural women, he implied, were glad to be pregnant so they could get a free trip to the city for a publicly funded abortion.
“You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved,” Eastman told Alaka Public Media.
The rebukes were harsh and swift from every quarter. It seems no one agreed with him. Eastman was called a racist and misogynist on the floor of the House and in the halls of the Capitol.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz led the charge to have him censured. No House member had ever been censured before in Alaska; Eastman’s censure made history and it also made national news. Women excoriated him on Facebook.
Legislators heard during that time that Eastman and his famiy were receiving threats.
“They were everything from ‘You should die,’ to ‘I hope your kid dies and gets raped in the process,” Eastman said. He reported one of the threats to Capitol Security and the Legislative Affairs Agency, but there were many others.
“Everyone knew because I said it on the floor on camera. No legislator thought it proper to acknowledge the threats at the time, in the two hours or so of railing against me on the floor, or the six months since,” he said.
It’s true: No mention was made by the House Speaker back then about the threats. Speaker Bryce Edgmon remained silent in the face of death threats against a member of the House minority.
One legislator’s spouse approached his wife, Jennifer, and told her she just needed to get a thicker skin.
FAST FORWARD TO NOVEMBER
This weekend, it was different ballgame. Speaker Edgmon issued a warning to the public not to threaten legislators.
That admonition came after a Facebook post from a riled-up Ashley Dahm, who called for Alaskans to steal the cars of legislators who voted against a repeal of SB 91. And to vandalize the cars. And to shoot thieves. He posted a list and directed it at Rep. Chris Birch’s Facebook page:
It was unwise for someone associated with the U.S. military to make such threats and no doubt there will be disciplinary action of some sort at JBER, where Dahm works.
But the reaction from the House Speaker was swift:
“Any sort of suggestion of retaliation, for lack of a better word, toward any member of this body from anybody in the general public will be dealt with swiftly and immediately,” Speaker Edgmon said. “We’re going to treat this matter very seriously, and if it happens again, we’ll treat it in a like-minded way.”
Rep. Cathy Tilton used her Facebook page to encourage decorum and responsible dialogue, and to remind people not to threaten anyone.
Rep. Eastman has been threatened before, he said, by a member of the Libertarian Party of Alaska. That man is now serving a 74-year sentence for murder.
“I raised the threat at the time, and was brushed off then, too. I’ve learned never to rely on what ‘other’ people think about the threats that are made,” Eastman said.
Eastman took this spring’s threats seriously enough that when a friend offered to do a bomb check on his car every day during the heat of the legislative debates, Eastman readily agreed.
“And my wife didn’t get much sleep during that period,” he said.