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One last Lora Reinbold newsletter for 2021
Might as well start to wrap up this year like it started, with the latest bizarreness from the world of Sen. Lora Reinbold.
Good evening, Alaska!
I hope everyone’s Christmas weekend was excellent and, importantly, as safe as possible for you ice-soaked communities (of which it sure looks like Anchorage will be joining tonight). Hope you’re all taking it easy (I am) and enjoying good food, good drink and good times with loved ones.
In this edition: Might as well start to wrap up this year like it started, with the latest bizarreness from the world of Sen. Lora Reinbold. Hopefully it’s the final time we have to think about the fact-challenged Republican in 2021. Plus, Lt. Gov. Meyer and Gov. Dunleavy finally called it quits… but not before rolling out a less-than-inspiring elections bill. Oh, and Dunleavy gets an “full and complete” conditional endorsement.
Twitter status: Still suspended!
Coming soon: The best, worst and weirdest of 2021. Also, some of my favorite non-political things because why not?!
Reinbold failed to uphold the Supreme Law of the Land, ethics panel says. Sad!
While the entirety of the issues surrounding social media and the First Amendment hasn’t been settled, it’s pretty well established at this point that elected officials cannot ban people from following official social media accounts or delete comments that would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment (aka, you can’t block or ban people just because you don’t like what they’re saying). You’d think that’d be the sort of thing that would be well-known and understood by a self-styled defender of the Supreme Law of the Land who’s spent the bulk of the pandemic harping on an apparently tyrannical government’s infringement on social liberties. But, then again, this is Sen. Lora “Constitutional Liberties for Me, not for Thee” Reinbold.
In a decision issued on Christmas Eve, the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics announced that Reinbold had, in fact, “blocked comments from a member of the public on a social media site due only to a disagreement with the Senator’s position on particular issues.” It orders Reinbold to “refrain from blocking members of the public from commenting on her legislative social media site(s) solely for expressing opinions in disagreement with her own.” It doesn’t call for any further sanctions.
It’s not the first (or likely last) time that a thin-skinned elected official has run afoul of the emerging legal thinking that comment sections and social media pages are essentially akin to a public square of ideas, of which the First Amendment guarantees you access. The ACLU has this handy guide to public officials and social media:
Public officials can block comments that are not protected by the First Amendment, including comments that make a true and immediate threat to another person, incite others to imminently violate the law, or contain obscene language as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the page was created specifically to discuss a certain issue (e.g. schools), officials are allowed to remove comments that are off-topic. But, if comments on a government site that praise the official or government agency on a particular subject are allowed, comments criticizing the official or agency on that same topic cannot be deleted or blocked.
Of course, Reinbold is countering with her own version of the facts that ranges from an alternative view of U.S. Constitution down a rabbit hole that, you guessed it, ties it all back to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s scathing letter accusing Reinbold of spreading misinformation about the pandemic (the misinformation being, largely, that Dunleavy was doing something about it). That the complaint was filed on Feb 21., just days after Dunleavy wrote the letter is all the evidence she needed to label the entire thing a “political witch hunt.”
“I believe that the Ethics Committee is being political weaponized, in direct response to my questioning in public, and on the record as a public official, things concerning the health and wellbeing of my constituents,” she said. “I also believe that the committee is well aware that I am in the middle of an unrelated lawsuit on a similar topic in the Superior Court.”
The entire of the letter, which she wrote on official letterhead and then posted to her personal Facebook page (which flirts with making that page another official one), is about a pure distillation of everything that Reinbold and the extreme right movement have come to embody. She takes no responsibility, no acknowledgement of her errors and, instead, pivots to the comfortable territory of victimhood. It’s everyone else—Republicans and Democrats alike—that are wrong, she argues, and are actually the ones guilty of making false statements, of which she conveniently provides a reference to the relevant part of Alaska law. She was just asking questions about the pandemic, she claims, and now they’re trying to silence her! (Though, if we’re approaching this with any logic, isn’t preventing her from being able to ban people the opposite of silencing her? Anyways.)
The letter wraps up with a reference to the state law on false allegations but adds “In closing, this letter is not a threat of any form.”
During the legislative session, Reinbold became a regular headache for everyone in the building with lengthy tangential diatribes that embraced covid-19 conspiracies and her general refusal to follow health mandates intended to protect the health of the Legislature and its employees. She also invited fringe “scientists” and conservative pundits to the Senate Judiciary Committee before she was ultimately removed as its chair. Her access to the building was briefly limited following a dustup with the House and she was ultimately banned from Alaska Airlines for violating its masking rules. Since the close of session, she’s also promoted “alternative” treatments to covid, including the suggestion to buy a vibrator, before contracting covid-19 in October (following her attending the Anchorage Assembly’s masking hearings) and pledged to treat it with ivermectin.
The ‘best’ public testimony of 2021
While Reinbold’s time in the Legislature has not been particularly stellar for everyone involved—including her comments at a hearing resulting to my first Twitter suspension—but at least it did produce what is possibly the very best public testimony to be read into the Alaska Legislature’s record:
So long, Lt. Gov.
Making good on long-running rumors, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer announced today that he will not be on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s re-election ticket. Meyer made an announcement at a news conference billed as the rollout for an election integrity bill. The legislation’s lead change would end the state’s automatic voter registration system tied to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend registration approved by voters in 2016 in an apparent bid to win over far-right critics.
During the news conference, Meyer said his decision to effectively end his political career was based on a desire to oversee the 2022 elections and the pending bill (of which similar efforts have already stalled out in the Legislature, giving it little chance of finding new traction in 2022) fairly.
“I need to be impartial so I can meet these challenges head on, without any appearance at bias or conflict,” he said. “I think that’s extremely important as far as voter trust and confidence in our election process.”
Gov. Dunleavy has long been rumored to be considering a change in his running mate, with rumors that Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello or former assistant secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney could be on the short list for options. Sweeney was recently named the co-chair of U.S. Rep. Don Young’s re-election campaign. Naming a new running mate quickly would give the Dunleavy campaign three days and change to name a new running mate and get in on the 2021 fundraising window.
Meyer has been a flashpoint for far-right criticism, particularly over the results of the 2020 election (though given everything, it’d be hard to have run an election in 2020 and not come under far-right fire for anything short of attempting to swear in Trump as president). The sentiment echoed much of the national conspiratorial theories about the 2020 election and were unabated by Meyer’s call to conduct an audit of the result for Ballot Measure 2. The audit not only found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but it found that the machine-tabulated results were incredibly accurate.
The newly rolled out election bill appears to be an attempt to appease those critics and seems to borrow many of the concepts first introduced by Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower, legislation that largely stalled as election conspiracies took over and dashed whatever energy there was for actually needed election reforms. Gone, though, is Shower’s call for the state’s entire election system to be moved to a blockchain system akin to what’s used for cryptocurrency and NFTs. Here’s the bullet points:
A repeal of the automatic voter registration system voters approved in 2016, moving it to an opt-in system that supporters have generally argued undermines the whole idea of automatic voter registration.
Changes to how the state maintains its voter list file, making it easier to strike voters from the rolls for various reasons. Requires a “subject-matter expert” to audit the list every other year.
Creates a toll-free hotline for individuals to report “questionable activity at the polls.”
Requires the state to buy new “signature verification equipment” but the bills “pays the postage cost for return envelopes.” Also requires a bill tracking system, akin to what Anchorage has already implemented.
Ends the permanent absentee (by-mail) registration, requiring voters to renew their absentee status every four years.
Creates a ballot curing process, which is good… if people know they need to cure something.
Allows the Division of Elections to have some “smaller communities and villages” conduct by-mail state elections “should it be required to give some Alaskans the chance to vote, even during a pandemic.”
“New regulations for routine forensic examinations and chain of custody protocols.”
“More thorough” definitions of election crimes.
Creation of a police training course so police officers can investigate election crimes themselves.