Interesting race shaping up in the MatSu this summer as Representative David Eastman (R, Dist 10) has drawn an opponent, Jesse Sumner. The primary winner should end up in the State House.
With that in mind, perhaps it is time to take a little closer look at David Eastman. For the most part, he fits his district well, being hard right when hard right is both required and celebrated by his supporters. This is all well and good until the “My way or the highway” worldview morphs from simple entertainment into something real damaging to the body politic and progress toward a small government future for Alaska. Such was his performance in Nov 2018 – Feb 2019 during the legislative organization festivities following the 2018 election.
Those festivities managed to hand over a 23-17 elected Republican majority to the 17 elected democrat minority. Like all disasters, this one had many fathers (and mothers), but David Eastman was among the first dominoes to fall. What follows is a description of what he did and the impact of those choices, all presented for the reader to determine if they want to do this again.
Following the 2018 election, Republicans met in late November to agree upon a governing majority. This was somewhat problematic, as two of them, Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux, organized with democrats two years before. A third Republican from 2016, Paul Seaton (Homer) was summarily defeated in his 2018 Republican primary. At the time, there was concern that both Knopp and Kopp would cross over to organize with democrats in the future.
Normally what happens is Republicans organize with a few Bush democrats, who are ideologically aligned with them to cement a majority. The two most logical choices this time around were Neil Foster and John Lincoln. Both were approached, and all was going well until David Eastman piped up and announced that there would be no organization that would include democrats, summarily stopping all negotiations. This insult was so bad that neither, especially Lincoln, would even consider any organization with Republicans afterwards. Had either / both of these come over, it would not have mattered what Stutes or LeDoux chose to do, and the rest of them would have had no political cover to cut and run either.
House Republicans gave it a go, with what ended up being a premature announcement of a 21-member organization with Dave Talerico as Speaker on Nov 7. For some reason, Eastman was not in the room at the time, apparently on an important phone call.
Once Eastman blew up any possibility for a bipartisan, Republican led majority, other cats started wandering off (herding cats is always difficult). Kenai’s Gary Knopp, who is apparently very close to Kodiak’s Louise Stutes, was the first to go. He took the two new Republican House members from the Peninsula with him for at least a little while. Tammy Wilson was next to wander off, taking two Fairbanks area Republicans with her. Finally, we had Anchorage’s own Chuck Kopp and Jennifer Johnston crossing over to form the final democrat-led majority in mid-February, a mere six weeks after the legislature was sworn in.
Like I said, Eastman was the first domino that turned what should have been at least a 23–17 Republican-led majority to a 25-15 democrat-led majority in the House. The Republican majority could have likewise been 25-15. Imagine what good that Republican-led majority with a couple Bush democrats included could have done with a brand-new Republican governor in office.
What are the Republican voters doing about this? We see primary challengers in Dist 10 to Eastman, Dist 15 to LeDoux, Dist 24 to Kopp, Dist 28 to Johnston, and Dist 30 to Knopp. Tammy Wilson already resigned. And Louise Stutes, Dist 32 barely survived her primary challenge in 2018. I do not know the status of any challenge to her this election cycle as yet.
Republicans appear well on their way to solving the organization problems following the 2018 election. We will see next month how successful they are.
Eastman’s pursuit of ideological purity blew up in his face, harming both the Republican majority and the incoming Dunleavy administration. It gave a group of wavering Republicans, people he KNEW were wavering, the excuse and political cover they needed to bolt. And if you become part of the problem, for whatever reason, your removal then becomes one possible solution to that problem.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.