Lora Reinbold has earned her spurs to join a distinguished group of maverick Alaska politicians.
It’s a tight club. Politically correct is not in its members’ vocabulary.
Reinbold is a Republican state senator from Eagle River.
The district is a bedroom community for Anchorage and traditionally votes Republican, but Reinbold is to the right of mainstream Republicans and has a core group of supporters who like what she says and does, and don’t care what others think.
Reinbold is like that, too. She doesn’t mind talking about what she believes in and she doesn’t mince words. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, is cut from the same cloth – Eastman is famous for voting ‘no’ on almost everything.
Alaska Airlines recently kicked Reinbold off the airline’s flights for refusing to wear and face mask and arguing with Alaska’s staff about it. National media including the New York Times and CNN picked up on it, the result being that Reinbold is on her way to becoming a heroine for national conservatives.
In politics, that’s really good news. The Eagle River senator should have no trouble raising money for her reelection and she may have her sights set higher on a statewide office, or even higher. Remember Sarah Palin?
What’s surprising about Reinbold’s district is that while it reliably votes Republican its legislators have tended to be moderates that might have leaned conservative but who were careful to work within the system to get things done. Examples are former Sen. Anna MacKinnon and former Sen. Randy Philllips, who represented Eagle River in the Legislature for years.
There may have been a much more conservative element growing in the district that liked Reinbold, or maybe hard-right conservatives were always there but were under the radar. We’ll know more about how much support Reinbold has after the recent events and the next election.
The senator’s current issue of choice is the coronavirus COVID-19 and the response to it. She has doubts about a lot of the government’s science on the virus and feels the reaction by government and political leaders is overkill. Business and school closures created by government mandates have put families under tremendous stress and caused more problems than the virus has, she believes.
Government mandates, face masks being the most visible symbol, are a serious intrusion on personal liberty, Reinbold shas said. She has decided to not accept them, visibly and vocally. There are consequences, of course.
Not being able to fly Alaska Airlines is one of them. However, the senator has decided that flying to Juneau is a convenience she can forego, for now.
Most recently Reinbold opted for an alternative of taking a state ferry to Juneau. It required a long drive from Eagle River to Tok, in eastern Interior Alaska, and through Canada’s Yukon Territory and a slice of British Columbia to arrive again on U.S. soil near Haines, in Southeast Alaska.
The Alaska Marine Highway System then took her to the state capital in Juneau. Riding the ferry into Auke Bay, Juneau’s ferry terminal, the senator could thumb her nose at Alaska Airlines planes landing at Juneau’s airport near Auke Bay.
Reinbold isn’t the only legislator in recent years to eschew flying for the ferry system. Sharon Cissna, a former Anchorage state representative, opted to sail rather than fly because she felt airport x-ray procedures too intrusive personally.
The other consequence for Reinbold was more serious, however. Her being taken out as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee represents a huge loss of influence that could affect legislation important for Eagle River. This step by Reinbold’s Republican senate colleagues was unprecedented in recent years and was a result of an accumulation of frustrations over difficult relations between the senator and others in the body, Senate leader said.
Reinbold is still on the Judiciary committee, which deals with matters of public safety, courts and many regulatory issues, but had she still been chair she could have continued to set the committee’s agenda, which gave her real influence.
However, giving up power for the sake is principle isn’t new in Juneau either. Sen. Shelly Hughes, R-Mat-Du, refused to vote for the state budget a few years ago because she thought it too bloated. That violated the rules of the Senate Majority, which Hughes was part of at the time.
Hughes got kicked out of the Majority “caucus,” which cost her committee assignments.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, as a senator, did the same thing. He refused to vote for the budget because he felt it too large. He was also kicked out of the caucus. Dunleavy ultimately resigned from the senate and ran for governor.
Alaska has had many maverick politicians who don’t fit the standard molds but one of the more famous, and recent, was Sarah Palin, the former Mayor of Wasilla who ran for governor and won and then became Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate when McCain ran for President. Palin has since become a darling of the right, although she has been out of the public eye recently.
But when she was governor, which was for two years before joining McCain on the national circuit, Palin’s reputation for unorthodoxy actually accomplished things.
One was the creation of a cabinet-level task force on climate change and adaptation to it, which laid the groundwork for a serious planning effort on coastal flooding and erosion around rural communities. Another accomplishment was creation of a state health care commission which was given resources, for the first time, to bring key players in health care like hospital and physician groups and insurance companies, together to investigate why Alaska medical costs were out of control. Substantial work was done, such as the commissioning of research that, for the first time, provided authoritative documentation of the differences between Alaska medical costs and those of the Lower 48.
Whether Lora Reinbold will someday make a serious mark on public policy is unknown, but as Palin and others have shown, being unorthodox and believing in principles is no bar in the long run.