State legislatures seem to be increasingly cracking down on their fellow elected officials according to a new report by Ballotpedia, which shows that six of the 31 state legislative censures over the past 185 years have occurred in the past six months. That amounts to 19.3% of all state legislative censures tracked by Ballotpedia – dating back to 1838.
This year’s censures represent the second most in a single year, and 2023 is only half over. The highest number occurred in 1941 when seven Wisconsin senators were all censured for refusing to vote on a piece of legislation.
Alaska State Rep. David Eastman is among the six censures recorded so far this year. The State House voted 35-1 to censure him after he made a remark during a committee meeting about the economic saving that could be realized from the deaths of abused children. A solidly pro-life lawmaker, Eastman’s remark was intended to be understood as an ironic jab at pro-abortion advocates who regularly claim that abortions are more cost beneficial to the state than live births. Eastman’s point, however, was either lost, unwelcomed or misconstrued by most lawmakers who voted to discipline him.
Censures typically serve as a formal rebuke by which legislators can express their disapproval of a colleague’s actions.
“At the state level, it may be accompanied by other actions such as the legislator being removed from committee assignments, but on its own, a censure stands solely as a symbolic rebuke from the chamber,” Ballotpedia explained.
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Over the past two-plus centuries, Ballotpedia found that censured lawmakers include 12 Democrats, 11 Republicans, and seven members of other parties.
Eastman is the only officeholder to have been censured twice. The first time was in 2017, when he became the first member of the Alaska House to ever be censured. At that time, the House voted 25 to 14 to punish Eastman for suggesting that some women are glad to become pregnant because they can access state-funded Medicaid to procure abortions. At that time, Eastman was trying to highlight the fact that Alaska uses public funds to underwrite the killing of the unborn, including paying for airfare, accommodations and the actual abortion.
Eastman later apologized for the remarks, but also expressed concern that lawmakers were focusing more on how his comments could be interpreted, rather than the substance of his point.
So far in 2023, Ballotpedia has tracked the censure of three Democrats and three Republicans across five states.