REPRESENTATIVE WILL FACE HIS CONSTITUENTS FRIDAY
Back in his home district on the Kenai Peninsula, folks are talking.
For political activists in this largely Republican district, where 5,200 registered Republican voters outnumber the 1,163 registered Democrats, this has been the winter of their discontent.
This is Trump country, here in Kenai/Soldotna.
Soldotna voters went 70 percent support of Trump and Kenai totaled 66 percent in 2016. Both results are far more than the 51 percent of the vote that Trump received statewide.
District 30’s representative, Gary Knopp, has gone against the prevailing winds. He ran unopposed last year and made statements that show him at odds with Gov. Michael Dunleavy.
In November, Knopp joined the Republican caucus that formed up immediately after the election, but by December, he left the group and has since held up confirmation of House Speaker for 26 days, since the House gaveled in on Jan 15. Knopp wants a bipartisan power structure — 50-50 Democrat and Republican, about 28 strong, not the 21 fragile caucus that he left.
His reason was, he said, David Eastman, the representative from District 10, whose votes so often go contrary to his fellow Republicans. Knopp just couldn’t see himself in a caucus with Eastman. A caucus of 21 would give Eastman too much power.
So instead, Knopp became the 21st vote, and he held out. On Friday, after Republicans nominated Dave Talerico for Speaker for the third time, the Republicans came up with just 20 votes. Knopp just disappeared, rather than vote. Republicans needed him, but he just wasn’t there.
The session is now one third over and the House hasn’t gotten organized, largely because Knopp has, since December, played Democrats against Republicans, trying to squeeze a deal for himself in some sort of power organization.
In a response to a story in Must Read Alaska, he said the Republicans keep trying to pull shenanigans.
“Because the Republicans constantly are pulling their shenanigans on the house floor, the speaker pro-Tem has began the process of recessing instead of adjourning in order to stop the disruptions on the house floor,” he wrote.
Those shenanigans are House Republicans insisting on holding a vote for Speaker.
REPUBLICANS ARE MEETING MONDAY NIGHT TO DISCUSS KNOPP
Last week, two Republican women’s clubs in his district called on Knopp to rejoin the Republican majority, writing a joint letter to him. But Knopp says that the letters are running 10-to-1 in his favor.
Recently, it came to light that Knopp had been a registered Democrat for the majority of his adult life in Alaska, only turning Republican when he ventured into public office.
That got folks talking where they gather at Ammo Can Coffee, where the local Republican district is holding a meeting on Monday evening at 6 pm to discuss the Knopp crisis.
This may be the week of Knopp’s political reckoning. On Monday night, will his district Republicans simply ask him to rejoin the majority and vote for a Republican Speaker? Or will they ask him to resign?
The answer may depend on what Knopp does on Monday in Juneau. Will he have another sick-out? Or will he put his vote for or against a Speaker on the record?
And then there are other meetings in his home district, to which he is expected to attend.
Knopp is the featured speaker at a special Kenai/Soldotna Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday at 8 am, where some of his fans and critics may gather to hear him explain why he has held up the House organization.
Later on Friday, he is scheduled for a town hall meeting at Kenai River Suites Area Room from 5:30-7 pm.
HERE’S KNOPP’S ESCAPE HATCH
Knopp’s timing for his trip home to the Kenai may be part luck, part planning. The stars may align for him. Here’s why:
The delay of the House organization went according to the Democrats’ plan — hold off forming a leadership caucus until the budget is released and people get weak-kneed.
By Friday, the conversation across Alaska will be remarkably different from Monday’s chatter, because the governor’s budget will be released on Wednesday. It will, Dunleavy’s office has indicated, reflect spending that is no more than the actual revenues that Alaska has: around $4.6 billion.
Liberals will gnash their teeth and even conservatives will catch their breath at the smaller government footprint. That Alaskans will receive a $2,861 Permanent Fund dividend may not be enough to salve the wound of smaller government spending.
The Dunleavy budget is predicted to be about $1.6 billion less than the $5.7 billion Gov. Walker proposed in his December budget, which was a deficit-spending plan that was $330 million higher than Walker’s budget for the current year.
Knopp will likely tell his constituents that he opposes the Dunleavy budget. He’ll tell the Chamber of Commerce and town hall attendees that he’s going to fight those cuts on their behalf.
Knopp won’t necessarily say what budget number he would support, or how he would pay for it, but he will say what he is against — Dunleavy’s balanced budget.
By Friday’s public appearances, Knopp’s months of obstructing a House organization may be eclipsed by the discussion about where to find the money for everything Alaskans want.
For a man in his shoes, a Democrat who is now a false-flag Republican facing a possible recall, Knopp will have the Dunleavy budget as a foil, allowing him to focus the lens of public opinion away from his activities in Juneau.
“You’re going to have that bloc of legislators who are going to support the governor’s agenda and a bunch of us who are not,” Knopp said in December.
He hasn’t moved from that position and he has until his Thursday night flight home to form up a caucus based on opposition to the Dunleavy budget.