Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was removed from her chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, following weeks of contentious behavior between fellow lawmakers and staff.
Reinbold has been a vocal critic of lockdown orders and masking rules and has at various times refused to follow the health mitigation rules in place at the state Capitol building.
“Today’s action is giving a valuable member some time to regroup,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. “This is an opportunity to move forward.”
In an interview with reporters following the vote to replace Reinbold, Micciche said multiple incidents mostly around decorum, had led to the decision.
“We would like a more positive outcome from relationships from the way committees are run, from respect for others in the building, respect for other members and staff,” Micciche said. “We all operate under a set of rules and those rules specify how we operate.”
The vast majority of Senate Republicans have had issues with Reinbold, Micciche told reporters, and while leadership was resistant to taking disruptive actions several members indicated they were no longer willing to wait. Reinbold was replaced on the committee by Sen. Roger Holland, R-Anchorage, a freshman lawmaker, but Senate leadership insisted the replacement was temporary.
Republicans in the Senate organized around what they called a caucus of equals, a response to the binding caucus rules under the former leadership. Reinbold and several other Senate Republicans lost committee chairmanships and office space for not voting along caucus lines in the previous legislative session. However, former Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, lost to Holland in the primary forcing a change in leadership.
Micciche distanced Monday’s action from that incident, saying the decision to remove Reinbold was made by the entire caucus and not just by Senate leadership.
The Senate voted 17-1 to remove Reinbold as chair. Reinbold was the only vote against her removal, though two senators were excused from the vote.
In a statement on the floor, Reinbold said she hadn’t been given specific incidents in which she had violated rules, and said her removal came at the specific request of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said in an email the decision to remove Reinbold was an internal Senate matter and did not involve the administration.
Dunleavy and Reinbold have had a publicly contentious relationship in recent months. In February, Dunleavy sent an excoriating letter saying his administration would no longer participate in hearings chaired by Reinbold due to misleading statements the senator made regarding the state’s pandemic response.
Reinbold has since demanded the administration retract the letter and apologize. Dunleavy has not done so, but he did send Attorney General Tregg Taylor before the Judiciary Committee in March as part of his confirmation.
Defending herself on the floor, Reinbold said leadership was unable to give her specific examples of violations other than “random expressed thoughts,” and that she had received no formal complaints.
Reinbold was temporarily barred from certain Capitol facilities in March for her refusal to wear a mask conforming to the legislative rules. Senators voted unanimously against Reinbold in that vote as well. At the time, Reinbold had also not been submitting to the regular COVID-19 testing and screening protocols everyone entering the Capitol must go through. Reinbold altered her mask to conform with legislative rules but removed it as she was leaving the Senate chamber Monday.
Following the floor session, Senate leadership said they hoped the change was temporary, and that Reinbold would make an effort to show more respect for her colleagues. One of Micciche’s staff members was hospitalized at Bartlett Regional Hospital with COVID-19 after contracting the disease.
“I believe in the immense capacity of humans to look inside and deliver a better result,” Micciche said. “We’re giving the member the opportunity to rise to the occasion.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.