Parsing the Apostate’s Defense: Rep. Lora Reinbold’s Response

Happily, WC isn’t from Eagle River. His state house representative is less egregious. But that won’t stop WC from parsing and analyzing Rep. Reinbold’s commentary in Monday’s Anchorage Daily Dispatch.

I took a solemn oath to defend and uphold the constitutions of the United States and Alaska. My responsibility is to those sacred documents and to the people of Alaska, particularly all of you, my constituents in Eagle River. Those bonds are stronger than any I shared with the House Majority Caucus here in Juneau. If there is ever a conflict between my oath to the constitutions and promises I made to my constituents versus the caucus here in Juneau, I will choose my oath to the constitutions and my promises to the people.

Let’s look at the “solemn oath” – there are “unsolemn oaths”? – Rep. Reinbold mentions. It’s dictated by the Alaska Constitution, Article 12, Section 5:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties as . . . to the best of my ability.

You’ll note it’s “support” the two constitutions, not “uphold.” Generally, it’s the judicial branch, not the legislative branch, that’s in charge of “upholding” the constitution. Usually upholding it against attacks by the Alaska Legislature. But WC digresses.

The two constitutions aren’t “sacred.” You don’t amend “sacred” documents. We amend the state constitution all the time. They are the topmost bodies of law. Let’s keep religious symbolism out of it.

But otherwise, Rep. Reinbold is right that her duty is first to the two constitutions, next to the folks who elected her, and next to the rest of Alaska. But Rep. Reinbold makes the common mistake of confusing means and ends.

A budget is an end. It’s the outcome. Serving your constituents is an end. A caucus is a means to the end. A means either works or it doesn’t. You don’t have a conflict between a means and an end; it either works or it doesn’t. Rep. Reinbold has created a false choice by casting her situtation as a choice between the end of representing her constituents and adopting a budget and the means to that end, being part of the majority caucus.

She continues:

Eagle River did not send me to Juneau to follow in tow with politics as usual, they sent me here to make the difficult decisions necessary to get Alaska on the right path. As a fiscal conservative, I am dedicated to creating a sustainable budget, in order to provide a stable and prosperous future for Alaska. As our oil revenues diminish, it is the men and women of this great state who will bear the cost of big government.

Rep. Reinbold errs further in impliedly claiming that a budget funded in substantial part by budget reserves violates her constitutional responsibilities. She never comes out and says it, but otherwise she wouldn’t have talked about the Alaska Constitution. That’s simply untrue. We have the constitutional budget reserve and the Alaska Permanent Fund in recognition that the price of crude oil is volatile, that Big Oil’s plans can be capricious and, above all else, that the supply of crude oil is finite. The reserve funds exist to deal with those realities. There’s nothing unconstitutional about spending down the reserves. It’s not even legally wrong to spend it foolishly. Dumb, yes. Illegal, no.

Alaska’s budget has been inherently unsustainable since we repealed the state income tax. It’s propped up by consumption of a non-renewable resource, a patently unsustainable path. But you can’t create a “stable and prosperous future” by cutting all state programs. Which, by the by, would still fail to balance the budget. You’d create an unstable, crashed state economy. The role of state spending in the state economy is simply too large. So, once again, you have a problem with means and ends. A “stable and prospserous future” is an end; your solution, cutting the budget even further than the majority caucus wants, would crash the economy. The means you have selected can’t achieve the end you avow.

The last sentence is a half a nod to the reality of the need for a state income tax. Except that she left out corporations, who can certainly pay income tax as well.

As many of you may have heard, earlier this month I voted against an unsustainable operating budget. I knew this decision likely meant an end to my membership in the caucus, but I firmly believe it was worth the cost. My voice in the Legislature is now louder and clearer than ever.

Really? You’ll be more successful, your voice will be “louder,” as a caucus of one? How’s that minority thing working out for the Democrats?

When I joined the caucus, I agreed with the guiding principles that we collaboratively set: to live within our means, save for future generations, identify the core functions of government, and to develop a long-term plan for Alaska. It was precisely these closely held principles that caused me to vote against a budget that simply does not reflect the fiscal crisis at hand. I believe that the published guiding principles of the caucus should take precedence over an unwritten rule. It is important that the caucus establish an agreed upon fiscal goal to work toward rather than requiring members to make blind allegiances to an open state checkbook.

Sigh. WC urges Rep. Reinbold to look at a chart of state income since 1978. It resembles a roller coaster. Because Alaska’s economy is 95% tied to the price of oil, our revenue swoops up and down with the market value of that commodity. Past legislatures were smarter than Rep. Reinbold. They recognized you cannot run a state government on the market value of a volatile commodity. Those same Republican majority caucuses have saddled the State of Alaska with massive non-discretionary obligations. That makes it impossible to balance the budget without using reserves, even if you eliminated all discretionary funding.

And those last two sentences? Not even a nod to grammar, let alone clear writing. Rep. Reinbold is embarrassing the Anchorage School District.

In the weeks to come, I intend to empower you, the people, with knowledge as I pursue my legislative priorities. I will continue toward grass-roots education reform, and act on the ideas that Alaskans are bringing to the table. I will seek opportunities to work across party lines to limit government spending in order to ensure we have essential government services for generations to come. Together we can create a more transparent government that is responsive to the people of Alaska.

When a state legislator talks about “empowering” her constituents, she means she isn’t going to be able to accomplish anything in Juneau for  them. When a state legislator talks about “grass-roots education reform,” it is an implicit concession that she’s not an effective enough legislator to accomplish it herself. And from there she descends into mutually inconsistent platitudes. An example: she wants to “ensure we have essential government services” and yet two paragraphs earlier proposed to zero out the discretionary budget. And while she wants government to be more transparent and responsive, WC can’t find any record that she proposed ending closed-door caucus meetings.

I have enjoyed hearing from many of you after my vote. Your overwhelming support has served as a strong reminder that my anchor is back home in Eagle River, not here in Juneau. As the session continues, I encourage you all to stay in touch with the Legislature. Down here at the Capitol it is critical that we hear the voices back home. As a good friend used to say, “If you want your government to leave you alone, don’t leave your government alone.”

What a strange paragraph to have from a sitting state representative. Try as WC can, there’s not a single substantive thought in there. It’s like parsing watery mud.

So what can we glean from Rep. Reinbolt’s commentary?

(1) She confuses ends and means to ends.
(2) She does and doesn’t want to crash the state economy.
(3) Written commentary is not one of her strengths.
(4) Economics is really not one of her strengths.
(5) She seems to be unhappy in Juneau.

But those five observations apply to most members of the majority caucus. You’d think she’d fit right in. Doubtlessly, the voters in Eagle River will help her with some of her challenges come November 2016.