JUNEAU — A conservative Republican lawmaker who broke with her caucus in voting against the state operating budget has been stripped of most of her committee assignments.
When asked if Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold was out of the GOP-led caucus, House Speaker Mike Chenault told reporters Reinbold chose to leave the caucus by voting as she did.
The Republican-led majorities in the House and Senate require their members to vote for the budget, to help facilitate getting a budget passed. Chenault said members have opportunities throughout the process to help change what is in the budget.
Lawmakers in the past have faced consequences for breaking with the majority, and Reinbold last week acknowledged she could, too. But she said she had to reflect the values of her constituents in voting as she did. She said she didn’t believe enough was cut.
The version of the operating budget that passed the House early Friday now goes to the Senate. Any differences between what the House and Senate pass likely will be hammered out in conference committee. While some lawmakers pointed out the process was still in its early stages, Reinbold said the House could not expect the Senate to make changes the House itself wasn’t willing to make.
Reinbold will remain on the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee but lost other assignments. The House Committee on Committees met Monday morning to approve replacements for those other assignments. Reinbold had been vice chair of the House Education Committee and co-chair of the joint Armed Services Committee, among other assignments.
She also stands to lose staff.
No one likes to lose a member, and the friendships representatives have with Reinbold haven’t changed, Chenault told reporters. “It’s just that, we’re in a position that, you know what the rules are, you choose to not follow the rule and there’s consequences for those actions,” Chenault, R-Nikiski, said.
Reinbold said she was disappointed but would continue to focus on her priorities, including education reform and reducing dependency on government, She said she will have to be resourceful and use relationships she has built.
Reinbold is still allowed to introduce legislation.
She said she has gotten strong support from her constituents. “I’m going to please the people that sent me here, and I promised them several things and one of them was to help limit government spending, and that’s why I feel strong that I couldn’t compromise myself and vote for a budget that I did not believe in,” she said.
Reinbold said she wants to know why an unwritten caucus rule would “appear to trump” the majority’s guiding principles, including the state living within its means. She is worried about the state’s reserves being drawn down too quickly.
The caucus’ top priority for this Legislature was to develop responsible budgets that protect Alaska’s economy and allow the state to live within its means. While there is consensus around the need to cut spending, it is virtually seen as impossible for the state to cut its way out of the projected multibillion-dollar deficits it is facing amid the fall in oil prices. The state plans to use savings to help get by.
One of the challenges for lawmakers is cutting the budget and downsizing state government without sending the economy into a tailspin.