State Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, holds a copy of the Alaska Constitution during a committee hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, sent Reinbold a letter on Feb. 18, 2021, saying she has used her position to “misrepresent” the state’s COVID-19 response. Reinbold said the letter was “full of baseless accusations and complaints.” (AP Photo / Becky Bohrer)

State Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, holds a copy of the Alaska Constitution during a committee hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, sent Reinbold a letter on Feb. 18, 2021, saying she has used her position to “misrepresent” the state’s COVID-19 response. Reinbold said the letter was “full of baseless accusations and complaints.” (AP Photo / Becky Bohrer)

Dunleavy says Reinbold misrepresents virus response

Dunleavy said his administration will no longer participate in hearings led by Sen. Lora Reinbold

By Becky Bohrer

Associated Press

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration will no longer respond to or participate in hearings led by Sen. Lora Reinbold, telling the fellow Republican in a withering letter that she has used her position to “misrepresent” the state’s COVID-19 response and that her demands for information have gone beyond checks and balances and are “not based in fact.”

“It is lamentable that the good citizens of Eagle River and Chugiak are deprived of meaningful representation by the actions of the person holding the office of Senator,” Dunleavy wrote in the letter dated Thursday. “I will not continue to subject the public resources of the State of Alaska to the mockery of a charade, disguised as public purpose.”

Reinbold has criticized the governor for issuing pandemic-related disaster declarations while the Legislature was not in session and taken aim at health restrictions imposed by local governments, airlines and the Legislature, including mask requirements. Dunleavy emphasized that he refused calls for a statewide mask mandate, seeing it as a local issue.

Health officials say wearing masks and following measures like social distancing help slow the spread of COVID-19.

On social media, Reinbold has accused the Dunleavy administration of being “wild” about “these experimental” COVID-19 vaccines, “bragging over 100,000 have gotten them in Alaska” and characterized the administration as seeking disaster declarations to get mass vaccination clinics.

Health officials say the vaccines are safe and effective and no steps were skipped during the clinical trials.

Dunleavy wrote in the letter that his administration has coordinated with local governments, hospitals, businesses and volunteer groups “so that as many Alaskans as possible have access to the vaccine if they so wish.”

Alaska’s disaster declaration recently expired after health and emergency officials warned lawmakers that a failure to extend it could restrict the state’s ability to distribute vaccines and set back progress in combating COVID-19. The lapse came when the House had not filled committee assignments or most leadership positions and couldn’t consider legislation, including a bill Dunleavy proposed to extend the disaster order.

Dunleavy’s letter to Reinbold included footnotes, many referencing her Facebook posts.

Reinbold has had combative exchanges with the state health commissioner and as chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee she’s held hearings highlighting testimony from people questioning the usefulness of masks and effects of government emergency orders. The pandemic has been a major focus for the committee, though it has no COVID-19-related legislation before it.

A post on Reinbold’s Facebook page Thursday said the committee has had “incredible informative hearings fighting to protect constitutional rights.”

Reinbold said in a statement Friday that Dunleavy’s letter was “full of baseless accusations and complaints” about her role on the Judiciary Committee.

“I will never stop fighting for the rights of my constituents — and that includes asking tough questions of this administration when they overstep their bounds. The public expects and deserves a full audit of how they’ve exercised their broad emergency powers,” she said.

Other states also have been wrestling with how much power governors should have to impose emergency restrictions during the pandemic.

Senate President Peter Micciche said the letter takes to the “next level” long-simmering tensions between Dunleavy and Reinbold, and his Republican-led majority takes the matter seriously. Micciche, a Republican, said he plans to speak with Reinbold and the governor’s office and have his caucus discuss a path forward.

Micciche said he canceled Friday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

He said Reinbold has a “passionate heart. When she sees someone hurting, she internalizes that and she wants to help. And our job as the caucus is to help her to do that professionally, with credible information and to have a functional and effective committee.”

Micciche said his goal going forward is that committees “take a balanced approach.”

“If you’re not hearing from all sides of an issue, then the public is not getting all the information that they need to help support us in our decisions,” he said.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich said he had never seen a letter quite like the one Dunleavy sent and that it’s up to the Senate majority to decide how it will respond.

Begich said the lone Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jesse Kiehl, hasn’t been able to voice his opinion as readily as minority members generally are allowed. Begich said a committee chair “sometimes has to entertain ideas other than their own.”

More in News

Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

Most Read