Jumping the shark

With an unhinged news conference, Sen. Reinbold went from a fascinating distraction to a tiresome distraction. Rep. Fields takes his punishment the way we'd hope more people would and other notes.

Good afternoon, Alaska! Whew! Another week is in the books, we’re halfway through the 90-day legislative session and the vaccine is nearing wide availability in Alaska (I got my first dose yesterday). Today, I’ll be tackling Sen. Reinbold’s preposterous news conference, the reprimand of Rep. Fields and a few other news and notes. Friday in the Sun is a little more filled out than the last few weeks, so check that out when it’s out (soon!).

‘Seditious Libel’

That’s how Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, described Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s letter that excoriated her for spreading false and misleading information about the covid-19 pandemic and the state’s response during an unhinged news conference outside of the Senate chambers on Thursday. It was about what you’d expect from a senator with what an already-established loose grasp on reality and a creative understanding of how the U.S. Constitution, the Alaska Constitution and libel laws work (namely, she seems to subscribe to the legal doctrine of ‘Everything I do is fine and everything you do isn’t’). Without providing any evidence, she offered several Trumpian claims about not only how "It has been found that his allegations are inaccurate," but that his “nuclear political weapon” was an unconstitutional broach of due process and an illegal allocation of state resources for a political purpose. She also bragged about her “exemplary” track record of public service, adding the preposterous claim that “My integrity and work ethic have never been questioned” (It has, many times by many people). She closed by demanding that the governor retract the letter, basically come to her begging for forgiveness and issue a “sincere apology.” Wonder if she’d accept a “Sorry if I offended you” cake… you know like the one she had for Alaska Airlines.

In all honesty, Reinbold’s antics are becoming a tiresome distraction now that the Legislature is starting to finally hum along with committee meetings and issues of far larger importance than her ego at play (the Senate chambers had to be cleared out so the mask-less Reinbold could hold her show). The meetings of the Senate Judiciary Committee have become a tri-weekly descent into a far-right sideshow where it seems like we’re just a half-step away from full-blown hearings on QAnon conspiracy theories. Like Trump, the whole thing was fun to gawk at until it wasn’t.

What’s interesting, though, is what one politico pointed out. This performance took place just steps away from where then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy announced his departure from the Republican Majority over the dividend fight in a similarly disjointed and largely nonsensical news conference. Looking back on everything, it was clearly a grab at the spotlight—and claim to the dividend fight—that laid the groundwork for his run for governor. It’s hard not to wonder if Reinbold might be considering a similar move, sensing weakness on Dunleavy’s right. She’s certainly been working to create connections with extreme-right national figures who’ve gained traction (and made plenty of money) by spreading precisely the kind of disinformation and conspiracy thinking that we’ve seen on display in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While it may not ultimately culminate with a crowded conservative side of the Republican ticket, it certainly has laid bare just how fractured the Alaska Republican Party is becoming with a faction deep into extreme-right conspiracy theories in Reinbold, the far-right side in Dunleavy and the increasingly diminished moderate wing of the party that, I guess, is Rep. Kelly Merrick’s wing now? Yeesh. The 2022 election with ranked-choice voting (which the Division of Elections began previewing this week) is going to be very, very interesting.

Also, kudos to the folks behind Alaskans for Posterity for sending Eagle River households Dunleavy’s letter. I had to read it several times before realizing that it wasn’t Americans for Prosperity that was fanning the flames of Republican infighting.

A much-needed apology

Following a minor dustup earlier in the week, the House today approved a Sense of the House resolution that reprimanded Rep. Zack Fields’ comments about Rep. Sara Rasmussen last week and stated that such comments have no place on the House floor. Mercifully, no one decided to make a fight out of this. Rep. Fields issued a sincere apology acknowledging that it’ll take action and not just words to make up for his comments. Rep. Sara Rasmussen said that after reflecting on everything that’s transpired in the week since, it should serve as “a moment of growth and learning so we as a society can do better in the future and not have to endure some of these things that we’re talking about today.” She also said there’s nothing “woke” about trying to solve the problems facing Alaska and spoke tenderly about her own children growing up in a world that’s often cruel, saying she hopes that current legislators take actions to make it better for when the next generation takes over. Honestly, it was about the kind of resolution you’d hope to see: Fields took his lumps and offered a sincere apology that contained no “Sorry if I offended you” or attempts to explain away his crummy statements, while promising to make some meaningful changes.

It’s still a crummy situation for Rasmussen, who I’m sure would rather be focused on just about anything else.

Of course, Minority Leader Cathy Tilton had to go and wonder aloud if the House would show “such restraint” if a Republican had said something like Fields did about a Democratic member. To which, I’d ask, do you think one of her members would have apologized?

Other notes

  • The Senate added a Senate Finance Committee referral to Senate Bill 14, far-right legislation aimed at inserting the Legislature into the appointment process for magistrates and judges on the District Court and the Court of Appeals. It’s a notable development after Sens. Lora Reinbold, Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes zeroed out the costs of the bill earlier this week as part of an effort to hurry the bill along the process. The Senate Finance Committee is far more moderate than that trio. Backstory from the blog: In quest to politicize the courts, far-right senators look the other way on bill’s cost

  • The House introduced House Special Concurrent Resolution 1, which seeks to stop the Dunleavy administration’s poorly justified effort to split the Department of Health and Social Services in two. The Legislature has until March 21 to take action to stop the move.

  • The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing focused on Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka’s proposal to close several DMV offices in smaller road system communities. It’s been one of the more bizarre proposals given that the DMV not only pays for itself but returns many, many millions of dollars to the state’s coffers. Particularly galling about the whole thing was Tshibaka’s explanation as to why they’re closing the smaller communities rather than, say, the Anchorage offices is because the pushback in the smaller communities is less strong. The plan also, unsurprisingly, is to have private companies open up their own offices in these communities where they’d be charging Alaskans up to twice as much for the same services.

  • After becoming the super-spreader event everyone feared it would become, the Alaska Legislature is getting vaccinated starting today. Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is providing the vaccines.

And I took that personally

I may or may not have binged the entirety of “The Last Dance” over the weekend. If you, like me, were wondering what happened to the Bulls after everyone was sent packing after taking home their sixth championship in eight years, here’s an excellent explainer from the folks at the excellent Secret Base.

Have a nice weekend, y’all.