Alaska News

Alaska House strips budget rebel of most of her committee assignments

JUNEAU -- The Republican-led Alaska House majority on Monday took away a committee co-chairmanship and most other committee assignments from a member who broke ranks and voted against the $5.4 billion operating budget last week, saying it wasn't conservative enough.

The House Committee on Committees, which is controlled by members of the majority caucus's leadership, stripped Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, of her co-chairmanship of the House Joint Armed Services committee as well as her seats on three other committees during a brief meeting Monday morning.

Reinbold, a tea party supporter, will keep her seat on the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee, though she'll also lose most of her office staff.

"In any organization, you have rules," House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said after Monday's committee meeting. "And if you don't follow the rules, there's consequences."

Reinbold didn't attend the committee on committees meeting. She said later that she'd been called into a meeting earlier in the day with Chenault and two other Republican House leaders, Rep. Craig Johnson and Rep. Charisse Millett, both of Anchorage.

"I felt like I was taken to the principal's office," she said.

Reinbold said the leaders told her she'd be losing her committee seats. They also told her she was being stripped of all three of her office staff members except one, who could remain at a receptionist's pay grade.


Reinbold's vote last week broke the House majority's rule that members must support the budget developed by the caucus. She said the House's proposed budget cuts, which she said amounted to 5 percent from last year, didn't go deep enough.

She called the caucus's actions "outrageous."

"Why should an unwritten, unfair caucus rule trump the caucus principles, which are to live within our means?" Reinbold said in an interview in her office, where a sign above her desk reads, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

"Please explain to me how we're saving for future generations," she added.

Chenault said caucus members have "plenty of opportunities" to shape the budget as it moves through the House's committees.

Members can also present budget amendments on the House floor; Chenault pointed out that Reinbold didn't do that. And he noted that she sided against the majority caucus a second time last week by voting to reduce a cut to a state-funded medical education program.

Reinbold also attended just four of the 14 meetings held by the budget subcommittees on which she served, according to records gathered by the House majority caucus's staff. Budget subcommittees are responsible for reviewing and revising state agency spending plans.

Reinbold responded by saying she hadn't been given the assignments she'd requested -- to the subcommittees that work on the budgets for the departments of Fish and Game, education and the state university system.

Instead, she said, she'd been assigned to two budget subcommittees chaired by Rep. Cathy Munoz, a moderate Republican from Juneau. Those subcommittees, Reinbold said, were "not accommodating of my schedule or my philosophy."

"Her and I are on two different political planets," Reinbold said, referring to Munoz. "All the meetings are pretty much worthless, because she allows the agencies to come before her and tell us how wonderful they are.

"It wasn't looking at the budget. It was justifying to meet the status quo," Reinbold added. She said she prepared amendments but they had been rejected by Munoz's office because they weren't on "legal memos."

Munoz's two budget subcommittees -- on the state judiciary system and Department of Environmental Conservation -- proposed 1.3 percent and 8 percent cuts, respectively, from last year's budget.

Munoz said in a phone interview that Reinbold had missed a deadline for submitting her subcommittee amendments and also failed to submit "conceptual amendments," which Munoz said were allowed through the last day of the subcommittee meetings.

Munoz added that another criticism from Reinbold -- that Munoz had failed to schedule subcommittee hearings early in the morning or late at night because her family lives in Juneau -- was "ridiculous."

"I wish the very best for Lora, and I wish that she can be most effective for her constituents," Munoz said. "But this is simply not the way to get things done."

Reinbold's colleagues outside the majority caucus's leadership were reluctant to comment on her ejection Monday.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, who said last year that he'd joined a conservative "freedom caucus" chaired by Reinbold, initially referred questions to the majority caucus's leadership.


He added, before walking into the legislators-only cafeteria in the Capitol, "I respect her vote and I'm using mine a little different."

Reinbold's vote could ultimately lead to a "fracture" within the state Republican Party, said Daniel Hamm, a conservative activist and president of the Alaska Republican Assembly, which is based in Palmer.

Hamm was watching a recording of Monday morning's committee on committees meeting when he answered a reporter's phone call. For years, he said, the majority caucus's rule requiring members' vote on the budget has given "political cover" for "supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans to spend and spend and spend."

"We've got a majority caucus that punishes people for being conservative and rewards people for being socialist," Hamm said.

Hamm said the Alaska Republican Assembly supports the budget cuts advanced by the majority, which the caucus says amount to some 10 percent from day-to-day agency operations. But the group also supports additional cuts of another $900 million and backed Reinbold's vote, Hamm added.

In a Facebook post Monday afternoon, Hamm made a pitch for a conservative to challenge Chenault in his home district primary in 2016.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at