In a 25 to 14 vote, members of the Alaska House of Representatives voted yesterday to censure one of their own, Rep. David Eastman (R. Wasilla), for comments he made disparaging women in Alaskan villages. In an Associated Press interview on May 2, Eastman alleged poor women in rural Alaskan villages will get pregnant so they can become eligible for Medicaid-paid trips to Anchorage or Seattle to receive abortions.
“We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle,” David Eastman told AP reporter Becky Bohrer.
Native Leaders Speak Out Against Rep. David Eastman
Leaders of many Alaska Native organizations were appalled by Eastman’s comments because of the predominantly Native populations in Alaska’s rural villages, alleging that his blatantly misogynistic comment was also racist.
Dr. Rosita Worl, president of the Native-owned Sealaska Heritage Institute, called Eastman’s remarks “reprehensible and a direct assault on rural Alaskans who have access to minimal health care in their villages. He has brought the legislature to a new low with such ignorant and divisive statements. I believe it is possible to have rational discussions about Medicaid funding without degrading and demonizing women.”
In a press release, Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska said, “As a lawmaker and a public servant, it is inexcusable for Representative Eastman to have made these comments. Alaska Native women account for less than 20 percent of the state’s population, but make up nearly half its reported rape victims. Rape in Alaska is also two and a half times higher than any other state. When you understand that Alaska Native women already experience a disproportionately higher rate of domestic violence and sexual assault than any other group in the nation, I consider these comments by Representative Eastman to be a direct insult to Alaska Native women… period.”
In a tersely-worded letter to Eastman, Joe Nelson, chair of the Alaska Native Corporation Sealaska wrote, “Your appalling comments demonstrate a significant level of disrespect toward Alaska’s first people because we are the majority in Alaska villages. Your statements exploited negative stereotypes of village life and further perpetuated racist feelings to promote your own political and personal beliefs.”
How It All Started
In what should have been a simple resolution setting aside April 2018 in Alaska as both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month, Eastman added an amendment about abortion, calling it “the ultimate form of child abuse.” This generated debate between pro-life and pro-choice advocates in the legislature. Eastman gave several interviews to the media explaining why he inserted comments about abortion into the resolution. During these interviews he made the disparaging comments about women in Alaskan villages.
Eastman defended his comments for several days in the media. But as enraged comments poured in to nearly every House member, a motion was made to formally censure Eastman.
The Emotional Vote to Censure David Eastman
Before the House voted on whether to formally censure Eastman, he was allowed to make a statement. David Eastman, a freshman member of the House who just began his term in January, gave a long, rambling and often incomprehensible statement in which he never actually apologized.
“I readily admit I said things that were terrible to hear and were certainly not anything that I was trying to communicate.”
Later, he came close to apologizing, saying, “I do ask for forgiveness from any and every person who has been hurt by what I said.” ICMN has reached out to Eastman for comment.
Several House members noted in their statements that asking for forgiveness is not an apology. House minority leader Charisse Millett (R. Anchorage) was perhaps the most poignant, seeming to fight back tears as she spoke.
“I think he understands how angry I am, how frustrated I am, that he couldn’t stand up today and say, ‘I’m sorry.’” Millett said, pausing as she appeared to choke back tears. “I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. Forgiveness is also hard, Mr. Speaker, but in my life I’ve learned that forgiving someone is the right thing to do... Even if the member from District 10 doesn’t apologize, I forgive him.”
Millett voted against the censure, but the majority of representatives voted in favor of it. The censure is simply a form of rebuke and there is no penalty associated with it. Eastman will suffer only bad publicity until news of the censure eventually fades away.