Senate GOP puts covid, election denier Reinbold in charge of Judiciary committee

Sens. Peter Micciche (now Senate President) and Lora Reinbold (now Senate Judiciary Committee chair) during a Senate State Affairs Committee on Jan. 31, 2019. (Photo by Senate Majority press)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold its first meeting this Wednesday where it will be reviewing the state’s COVID-19 health orders and their “impact on Alaskans.” It’s the sort of hearing that you’d expect given everything that’s happened in the last year but given that the committee is chaired by right-wing Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold—who beefed with Alaska Airlines over being told to wear a mask on flights—it’ll likely be a very different hearing than it would have been in years past.

With a divided Republican majority in power (perhaps just barely so), Reinbold and other far-right senators got choice positions in this year’s Legislature that will not only give them a pathway for their agenda but also a platform for, as columnist Dermot Cole writes, “crackpot conspiracy theories.” 

Over the past year, Reinbold has been busy on Facebook propagating doubt and disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, calling masks tyranny and blasting Gov. Mike Dunleavy for what has, in reality, been a largely toothless effort to curb the spread of the virus. Cole has an excellent write-up of some of the greatest hits here: In the Alaska Senate Caucus of Equals, crackpot conspiracy theories find champion in Reinbold.

In the last week alone, Reinbold has posted to her official Facebook page stories from far-flung websites questioning the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, transphobic propaganda she posted “regarding transgenders participating in girls/women sports” and posts about “Cancel Culture.” Several of the posts include Facebook disclaimers that the information is party false or entirely false. 

A “partly false information” tag is attached to a post where Reinbold previews this week’s meetings with a link to a story suggesting ivermectin is a quick and easy cure to covid-19 (it’s not) that has been overlooked by health providers. That story appears to be the foundation of plans to bring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink “before the Judiciary committee to discuss how she has handled the COVID 19 pandemic in the state.”

“Have any of you heard about Dr. Zink talking about good treatment options for COVID 19 and ensuring they were readily available for physicians and health care providers in the state?” she asks. 

While the chief complaint with ivermectin is its lack of clinical trials on covid, she has other posts that cast doubt on the safety of covid-19 vaccines because their approval trial was sped up. It’s a mind-boggling trip through the confounding world of right-wing conspiracy theories where the goalposts are continually shifted as it suits them.

So wrapped up in the right-wing conspiracy sphere, Reinbold was one of the headliners on a brief supporting Texas’ attempt to overturn the 2020 election (along with Reps. David Eastman, George Rauscher, Ron Gillham, Christopher Kurka, Kevin McCabe and Tom McKay). Their brief, which included gun-toting Bible-thumping Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, claimed that “an elite group of sitting Democrat officers in each of the defendant states coordinated with the Democrat party to subvert the Presidential Election.” (They didn’t.)

When pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Captiol, Reinbold ran to social media to suggest that it was actually Antifa’s doing. (It wasn’t.)

And now she’s in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a seat once held by North Pole Sen. John Coghill, a conservative but generally well-respected Republican who was defeated in last year’s primary elections.  

“The absence in the Senate of Sen. John Coghill, a man I rarely agreed with but respected,” wrote Cole in his column, “will be keenly felt this year in Alaska.” 

Notably, the Senate has chosen to route a critical covid-19 bill from Gov. Mike Dunleavy that extends several portions of disaster declaration and other programs around Reinbold’s committee. Instead of going to the Judiciary Committee, it will go to the Health and Social Services, Labor and Commerce, and Finance Committees. 

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