IN A YEAR BUILT FOR INCUMBENTS, THIS LAWMAKER IS IN A PRIMARY TO WATCH
Rep. Chuck Kopp has attracted a primary challenger in House District 24, and politicos are paying attention.
In a year when incumbents are supposed to win, due to campaigning and fund-raising difficulties, the challenger, Tom McKay, is a former chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.
Tom McKay is a engineer who worked for 40 years in the oil industry, mostly in Alaska. He knows a lot of Republicans, and many trust him to take this seat.
McKay says the recent situation, with House Democrats holding up CARES Act funding, is a direct result of Rep. Kopp’s actions, because Kopp rolled his fellow Republicans and aligned with Democrats, giving people like Rep. Chris Tuck the ability to sit on $1 billion in aid.
In late 2018, Kopp, along with Rep. Jennifer Johnston, Rep. Louise Stutes, and Rep. Gary Knopp led a breakaway group from the elected Republican Majority.
They installed Byrce Edgmon as House Speaker. Edgmon, a Democrat, agreed to change his party registration to “undeclared,” to give the Republicans political cover.
In that organization, Kopp became the powerful chair of the Rules Committee. A year and a half later, he is trying to put together an organization that would make him Speaker. Some day, politicos think, he wants to run for Congressman Don Young’s seat.
But for today’s race, District 24 will be won or lost in the primary, and Republicans have developed a distaste for supporting candidates who flipped the House.
There are many reasons that Kopp could be in trouble this time around, and they have nothing to do with his stint under Gov. Sarah Palin, when he was abruptly fired after two weeks as the Commissioner-designee of Public Safety.
But with 99 days to go until the Aug. 18 primary, the top three problems Kopp has are fundamental to policy and political alignment, not the lingering #metoo problem from over a decade ago.
This race is perhaps the marquee race to watch because of these top issues:
- District 24 is a heavily Republican area, with 3,919 Republicans to 1,905 Democrats. Formerly represented by Lesil McGuire and Craig Johnson (and even former Gov. Sean Parnell was a representative here back in the 1990s), the voters in District 24 are no-nonsense conservatives. Kopp double-crossed his base when he caucused with Democrats and installed them in power in 2018, even though Republicans held the majority in the 2018 election.
- Kopp defended SB 91 and worked to block the repeal of it. SB 91 was the soft-on-crime legislation that opened the floodgates to a crime spree that swept Alaska, with catch-and-release laws that were so notorious that every criminal in the State knew the phrase “SB-91” was their get-out-of-jail free card. Many in his district wonder how a law enforcement professional like Kopp could have teamed up with a criminal defense lawyer like Rep. Matt Claman, and used his power to allow break-ins, car thefts, murders, and rampant drug dealing to descend upon law-abiding citizens. To this day, SB-91 is a hated piece of legislation by voters in District 24.
- Big public employee union ties are a concern. Since taking office, Kopp has shifted his concern from district matters, like fighting crime, to trying to add a defined benefit package for firefighter and police officer union members. The bill, HB 79, would cost the state an additional. $4.1 million a year, and is seen by Democrats as a crack to drive all other public employees through and attain defined benefits again, like the old PERS Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 system, which became too expensive for the State to continue. Kopp is the prime sponsor of the legislation to increase state operating costs.
Kopp is not without resources in this primary contest. He has a capable and large legislative staff that will campaign for him off-hours. The union boys will do phone-banking for him. The Democrats won’t oppose him in the General Election, so he can spend all his money in the primary, where this district is won or lost.
And he has lots of union money. In fact, $17,000 of his $27,000 war chest at the end of the year has come from the biggest unions — most of them representing public employees. Those unions will pony up more of those $1,000 donations once the Legislature is finally “out of session” and they are able to donate again.
Money is something McKay still doesn’t have a lot of, although he’s raised a few thousand dollars, he said. McKay says there won’t be traditional “fundraisers” this year, so candidates are going to have to make calls.
Kopp knows what an advantage he has in the race for cash: During a Republican District 24 meeting in December, Kopp stormed out of the gathering, telling the participants that he neither needed the Republicans’ endorsement, nor their money.
Joe Mathis, who was at the December meeting, said, “It is truly unfortunate that my legislator Chuck Kopp violates his commitment and trust that he ran on… switches his allegiance to the party that he ran against. It demonstrates his total lack of integrity and honesty to his supporters. His leadership since joining with the Democrats has been an unmitigated disaster. I could sum it all up in one statement. ‘It is Flip Flop Kopp!’ I am supporting Tom McKay as I know he has commitment, integrity and honesty.”
Mathis and a group of other Republicans from the district say they are committed to flipping the District 24 seat back to Republican from what looks to them like a Democrat in Republican clothing.