I’ve been warning anyone who would listen… I warned members of the House Republican Minority privately. I warned anyone who reads The Midnight Sun publicly. Newly elected Rep. David Eastman is now the Ted Cruz of the Alaska Legislature, and right out of the gate on the first day of the legislative session, he proved it.
The first day of the session is usually a pretty pleasant affair. The pressures of budget negotiations and special sessions are still months off. Full-blown partisan rhetoric and arm-twisting and vote wrangling haven’t yet begun.
In the State House, where everyone is up for election every two years, members take the day to bask in the glory of their victories and invite their families into the Capitol to share in the accomplishment.
It’s a day of peace and happiness before the politics get started. Only Mat-Su Republican David Eastman didn’t get that memo.
When nominations for Speaker of the House opened, Rep. Paul Seaton rose to nominate Rep. Bryce Edgmon and moved to close nominations. This is usually little more than a procedural formality; the real vote for Speaker took place among majority members months ago.
That didn’t stop Eastman; he objected and caused a nearly ten-minute at-ease while his own caucus leadership tried to talk him out of it. Minority Floor Leader Rep. Dan Saddler and former Speaker Mike Chenault immediately surrounded Eastman to encourage him to drop it.
The State Legislature tends to get a nasty rep for partisanship, disingenuous pandering, and dirty lobbyist machinations, and much of it is well-earned, but there are also rules of civility, written and unwritten.
Legislators tend to go out of their way to protect members on both sides from outright embarrassment. As someone who has watched the proceedings from afar for many years, that can sometimes be frustrating. Sometimes I wish leaders would simply call out colleagues who abuse relocation reimbursements or loudly assault female members with sexually demeaning language or, well, this list could go on for a while, but the point is the Legislature has a code.
By needlessly objecting to closing speaker nominations, Eastman broke that code. He caused a delay, forced Edgmon to wait for his moment in the sun, and caused his caucus to have to deal with him. Eastman was stepping on Edgmon’s moment in order to say to the entire House, “hey, everyone look at me!”
Ultimately, Republican leaders talked Eastman into withdrawing his objection, and why not? He already got what he wanted.
Just for good measure, Eastman then deprived Edgmon of the honor of being unanimously elected by being the only vote against his election as Speaker.
Edgmon then took his place as the first Alaska Native House Speaker in Alaska’s history.
Why did Eastman do it?
Eastman told the Juneau Empire:
“As a candidate, I declared to voters that I would only support candidates for House leadership who are publicly committed to passage of a sustainable budget according to the ISER/Goldsmith model,” Eastman said by email later in the day. “I hope that the Speaker will come my way on this issue, but he has not yet made such a public commitment.”
Eastman disrupted the proceedings, stole the limelight for a moment, and doled out a bit of embarrassment to a fellow member just to get attention for himself and cement his position as the most entrenched ideologue in the body.
Sound familiar? It sounds an awful lot like how Sen. Ted Cruz acts on the national level, doesn’t it?
After years of dealing with Eastman in Republican circles, I can tell you, unlike most legislators, Eastman doesn’t care about the normal currency of politics: relationships. Like Cruz, he cares about getting attention and being viewed as the purest of pure conservatives.
But unlike other similarly minded legislators who have come before him, like Rep. Vic Kohring, Eastman isn’t stupid, lazy, or politically inept. He has a talent for knowing exactly where and when to strike for maximum effect. He is also smart and hard working enough to make the most of those opportunities.
I almost giggled when, after Eastman’s antics yesterday, I had three different Republicans, either elected or staffers, use the word “asshole” to describe him.
Well, I hope his caucus colleagues are prepared — I can promise you this is just the beginning.