Last week, Rep. Lora Reinbold voted against the operating budget, breaking one of the House Majority caucus’ rules for membership. Now, the Eagle River Republican has lost her committee chairmanship, and her seat on all but one committee.
The meeting to remove Rep. Lora Reinbold of most of her power was short — under five minutes. While she was not in attendance, every member of House leadership was. Speaker Mike Chenault reassigned her positions in rapid succession.
“Herron will replace Reinbold on the Rules Committee. Rep. Talerico will replace Rep. Reinbold on the education committee,” listed Chenault. “Rep Vazquez is the new vice chair of the education committee …”
And so on. Reinbold lost her co-chairmanship of Military and Veterans Affairs. She was removed from every committee save for Community and Regional Affairs. Members of her four-person staff will be dismissed. While Reinbold will get to keep her office through the legislative session, other members of the House Majority caucus have already been asking about the space.
“In any organization, you have rules,” Chenault said following the meeting. “If you don’t follow the rules, there’s consequences.”
Reinbold’s offense was voting against a budget bill. She felt that the operating budget, which slashed 10 percent in agency operations, did not cut deep far enough.
“I don’t see the willpower to do that in a time of crisis,” says Reinbold, referring to the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit.
Reinbold says the vote she took was for her constituents, not the majority caucus.
There are only two hard rules for membership to the Legislature’s majority caucuses. A member needs to support procedural moves, like committee assignments, and a member needs to vote for whatever budget gets produced, even if they do not like aspects of it.
Reinbold is in her third year as a legislator, and she voted for the previous two operating budgets — both of which were larger than the one that passed the House on Thursday. Reinbold says she agreed to the budget rule then because she wanted to give the caucus system a chance.
“I was a freshman, first of all, and I had to learn the process,” says Reinbold, before adding that she’s comfortable with her previous votes. “Government had been growing, and the first year we froze that. So that was a big step. Last year, we actually decreased it by two percent. So, knowing that I was a freshman and not on Finance, I wanted to give an opportunity to see how it worked.”
Reinbold says she decided to vote no on the operating budget after cuts that had been made to the education department and the university system were reversed.
The last legislator to leave the caucus system now serves as Majority Leader. Charisse Millett left the caucus in 2010 with then-Rep. Kyle Johansen over a disagreement over committee assignments.
“I didn’t enjoy being out of the caucus,” says Millett.” If I were going to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Millett says she advised Reinbold against breaking with the caucus over the budget vote.
“Being someone who was out of caucus for two years, I told her it was difficult at best to be out of caucus. People you want to work with are less likely to work with you because they don’t trust the way you’re going to vote. When you give your word and say you’re going to vote for something that everybody works on, you’ve got to keep your word.,” says Millett. “Not keeping her word with our caucus members put her at a disadvantage.”
Millett adds that the point of the budget rule is basically to make sure a budget gets passed, instead of having fights break out over specific projects and line items. She says that Reinbold had the opportunity to influence the budget through the subcommittee process or through amendments on the floor. Reinbold was assigned to three budget subcommittees, and attended four of the 14 meetings they held.
“We have finance members that work 20 hours a day on formulating a good budget,” says Millett. “Opportunity to provide input into that budget was offered at every subcommittee level, and if you don’t participate in a subcommittee level, and if you don’t offer amendments, then you subvert your ability to do anything.”
Reinbold defends her subcommittee participation, noting she did not receive the assignments that she requested and that she had travel conflicts. She adds that she did not offer a floor amendment to reverse those changes because she was not optimistic about the chance for success.
With only one committee assignment, Reinbold will have less influence over the legislative process. But she is not worried about her ability to represent her constituents with fewer committee assignments. She says their reaction has been favorable.
“Overwhelming,” says Reinbold of the response from her district. “My mailbox is full, and I apologize to anyone who couldn’t get through. Unimaginable amount of texts, unimaginable amount of support on Facebook.”
Reinbold says she uncertain about her future plans. She does not know if she would rejoin the Majority Caucus if invited back under the same binding rules.
“I’ll have to give that a lot of thought,” says Reinbold.
The Democratic House Minority caucus has no requirements for binding votes, but does not expect Reinbold — a far-right conservative — to join their ranks because of ideological differences.
“In the spirit of being all inclusive, we would let her join, but I don’t think she would do it,” says Minority Leader Chris Tuck. “I think she’s enjoying her freedom. She voted against the budget for different reasons than we did.”
The Republican House Majority caucus now has 26 members, just short of a two-thirds share of seats.