State House censures member for child abuse comments

JUNEAU (AP) - An Alaska lawmaker with a history of incendiary remarks was censured by the state House on Feb. 22 after he said it has been argued that cases of fatal child abuse can be a "cost savings" because the child would not need related government services.

The House voted 35-1 to censure Republican Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, with only Eastman voting against the censure. The House action has no formal consequences other than putting a statement on the record.

Eastman was censured in 2017 over comments he made suggesting there are women in Alaska who try to get pregnant to get a "free trip to the city" for abortions.

In 2018, the House Ethics Committee found he violated state ethics law for publicly disclosing a confidential complaint against a House member.

During a Judiciary Committee hearing Feb. 20 on adverse childhood experiences, Eastman asked the testifier how he would respond "to the argument that I have heard on occasion where in the case where child abuse is fatal, obviously it's not good for the child but it's actually a benefit to society" because there is not a need for government services that child would otherwise be entitled to receive if they had lived.

The testifier, Trevor Storrs, president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Children's Trust, asked Eastman to repeat what he'd said. "Did you say, 'a benefit for society?'"

"Talking dollars," Eastman said, referencing a figure in a document provided to the committee that was related to costs associated with neglect and abuse. Eastman said it "gets 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."

Storrs called the loss of a child unmeasurable.

Rep. Andrew Gray, an Anchorage Democrat who brought up the censure motion in the House on Feb. 22, said Eastman should be censured for "offensive, insulting and unsubstantiated statements that undermine the dignity of the House." Gray said he also was speaking as a parent.

Eastman said Gray impugned his motives and character and labeled as outrageous and unacceptable any suggestion that he "support(s) child abuse when I've staked my entire political career arguing for the opposite."

In comments after the House vote, Eastman said he didn't intend to seriously make the argument that a fatal case of child abuse could save money. His intent, he said, was to point out its ridiculousness and contrast it with economic arguments in favor of abortion.

Though the House is controlled by a Republican-led majority, and Eastman is a staunchly conservative Republican, he has at times butted heads with his fellow Republicans, even being removed late last session from the Republican caucus and from two committees.

He last year easily won reelection in his district and withstood a legal challenge to his eligibility to serve in the Legislature over his ties to the far-right group Oath Keepers.

Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance, chair of the Judiciary Committee, which includes Eastman, called the representative's child abuse comments "messy and insensitive" but said the issue should have been addressed in committee and that legislators have the right to free speech.

The Alaska Beacon contributed to the reporting for this story.


Reader Comments(0)