Many may have learned who Alaska state Rep. David Eastman (R) was for the first time this week, when he made national headlines over his befuddling remarks about the economic benefits of dead abused children.
But not 75-year-old Alaska resident Randall Kowalke.
Last year, Kowalke sued to boot Eastman — an Oath Keeper who attended the Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6 — from public office, arguing that Eastman’s lifetime membership in the far-right group made him ineligible to be an elected official under Alaska’s state constitution.
After battling it out in court, an Alaska judge ultimately ruled in Eastman’s favor, allowing him to remain in office. In an interview with TPM this week, Kowalke said the court decision has given Eastman the platform he needs to continue spreading his extremist views.
“We wanted to not give him a platform for this kind of stuff,” Kowalke told TPM.
“I’m a serious student of history. And those kinds of remarks remind me of the clearing out in the mental hospitals in Germany,” he added, referring to mass sterilization and killing of psychiatric patients in Nazi Germany. “Those people were not productive citizens and so they were seen as expendable. And it’s a short step from the kinds of remarks Eastman was making.”
Kowalke’s comments to TPM come days after Eastman argued that the death of an abused child could provide “cost savings” for the government during a state House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The remarks came in response to a policy brief the Alaska Children’s Trust delivered to lawmakers during the hearing. The organization used the hearing to outline statistics on fatal child abuse and to argue that neglect can cost the family and broader society an estimated $1.5 million in health care expenses and potential lifetime earnings over time.
“It can be argued, periodically, that it’s actually a cost savings because that child is not going to need any of those government services that they might otherwise be entitled to receive and need based on growing up in this type of environment,” Eastman said referring to the death of an abused child during Monday’s hearing.
His statement has since sparked outrage among Alaska lawmakers, who voted unanimously across party lines to censure the Republican on Wednesday. Eastman became the first and only Alaska legislator to have been censured twice.
The Alaska lawmaker told TPM in an email statement that his remarks were taken out of context. He argued that he was playing devil’s advocate when he asked about the economic benefits of children’s deaths, and that he was challenging the ways in which ACT was presenting the information.
“In the literature they passed out to us during the meeting, they also went so far as to assign a dollar value of $1.5M to the life of a child who is even less than a day old, in terms of economic benefit to society. I find assigning a dollar value to a child highly problematic,” Eastman said. “Children are priceless. While it was good to hear ACT advocating against child abuse, a child’s value comes not from future economic productivity, but from the fact that every child is made in the image of God.”
“I asked ACT to explain how they got to the $1.5M figure, and asked how they would respond to the opposite argument, that society is somehow economically better off without unwanted children,” he added. “Who better to hear from on this than a group whose stated purpose is to protect kids from abuse?”
Kowalke thinks state lawmakers should do more to shut down the Republican’s extreme rhetoric.
“I think they should expel him. I think they should have expelled him during the last session… but they were too gutless to do anything,” Kowalke said.
Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers attracted attention in the wake of Jan. 6. Kowalke soon filed a lawsuit, supported by the Northern Justice Project, alleging that Eastman was ineligible to hold office in the state due to the “disloyalty clause” embedded in the Alaska Constitution. Kowalke and NJP lawyer Goriune Dudukgian argued Eastman’s lifetime membership in the far-right group made him disloyal and therefore ineligible to hold office in Alaska under the state constitution.
“It was sort of a case of if we don’t stand up, who’s going to?” Kowalke told TPM. “We had a portion of our state constitution that said you couldn’t be disloyal. And I certainly believe David Eastman was. I still believe he is. I had a chance to do what I thought was the right thing, and I felt it was my responsibility to do that.”
Kowalke is referring to the part of the Alaska constitution that reads, “No person who advocates, or who aids or belongs to any party or organization or association which advocates, the overthrow by force or violence of the United States or of the State shall be qualified to hold any public office of trust or profit under this constitution.”
The week-long trial over the lawsuit was a spectacle. Eastman proudly admitted he is in fact an Oath Keeper. He also brought in a slew of far-right characters to testify on his behalf: Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers who was just convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in Jan. 6, John Eastman, the Trump attorney who was involved in the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and an ex-FBI employee who has claimed that Mitch McConnell and Beto O’Rourke are agents of the Chinese Communist Party.
In December, despite acknowledging that the Oath Keepers have “through words and conduct, taken concrete action to attempt to overthrow by violence the United States government,” Judge Jack McKenna ruled in Eastman’s favor, allowing him to keep his position in the state House.
The court found that “Rep. Eastman is a member of that organization, but that he does not and did not possess a specific intent to further the Oath Keeper’s words or actions aimed at overthrowing the United States government,” McKenna wrote in his decision. “The court therefore finds that he is not disqualified from holding public office.”
Despite their disappointment, Kowalke and his lawyer Dudukgian decided not to appeal the judge’s decision to protect those who might file similar lawsuits in the future. When asked whether they would try again, Dudukgian told TPM it’s a possibility.
“We don’t have a case ready to go right now. But I’m not ruling out bringing in another case down the road,” Dudukgian said.
While his legal challenge to Eastman’s seat in the state House was ultimately unsuccessful, Kowalke — who held local office and ran for state office as a Republican — says he saw the writing on the wall regarding Eastman long before he decided to file the lawsuit.
Kowalke initially supported the young Republican politician. He and his wife both voted for Eastman when he ran for the Alaska House of Representatives in 2016. Kowalke — who was then a borough assemblyman — even sat down for lunch with the young lawmaker, he told TPM.
But it’s during that meeting, Kowalke said, that he first became wary of Eastman.
Kowalke recalled Eastman saying “indigenous women were getting pregnant so they could fly to Anchorage and Seattle for abortions.”
“That comment caused me a great deal of concern and it sort of went downhill from there,” Kowalke said.
Eastman denied Kowalke’s account of the conversation.
“That’s ridiculous. Never happened,” Eastman told TPM. “He is repeating slander he heard from others.”
However, Eastman made similar remarks publicly to those Kowalke described earlier that same year.
In May 2017, he became the first Alaska House member to be censured in the state’s history, after he claimed that women in rural villages in Alaska try to get pregnant so they can get a free trip to the city for an abortion.
“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,” he said at the time.
Kowalke shared with TPM a mileage log and a reimbursement form he submitted to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough government, where he was an assemblyman at the time. The form labeled the expense as a meal with David Eastman. He also shared with TPM a receipt for the lunch — $42.55 paid to Evangelo’s on August 15, 2017, also labeled, in pen, with David Eastman’s name.
As Kowalke describes it, Eastman is a consequence of the Republican party’s “general slide to the far right, which ended up being an avalanche to the far right.”
“We’re about wanting to have the most extreme views and then control the majority through that minority,” Kowalke said. “I think people are slowly going to realize how destructive all of this is and I hope you know they’re able to put a stop to it before it runs us into a wall.”