Many conservatives around Alaska lay the blame for the Legislature’s failure to perform squarely at the feet of Rep. Gary Knopp, a Republican from Kenai District 30.
Knopp this year followed his heart and withdrew from the then-Republican House Majority, and over weeks helped carve out a large Majority led by Democrats, with seven other Republicans like him.
He had been leaning toward Democrats for a long time when he led a stalemate that prevented the House from organizing for 30 days at the beginning of the session.
Due to that stalemate, the House has not been able to finish its work and the entire Legislature is in special session for up to 30 more days.
For 30 days in January and February, Knopp went back and forth between offices trying to put the Democrats in charge of the House, all the while earning his $50,400 a year plus $275 a day per diem ($8,200 for the month) to flip control. All the while, dining and hanging out with Rep. Louise Stutes, who had already turned against her party and was courting him to do the same.
In the end, Knopp got what he wanted with Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp, Bart LeBon, Tammie Wilson, Gabrielle LeDoux, Louise Stutes, and Steve Thompson all joining under the leadership of Democrat Bryce Edgmon, who switched to “undeclared” to give these Republicans cover back home with the voters.
Back in Kenai, people were unhappy. They were openly hostile to Knopp during his town hall meeting in February.
Now, two people have filed to run for Knopp’s seat. Ron Gillham, who most recently challenged Sen. Peter Micciche, and former Rep. Kelly Wolf are lining up to take on Knopp, who has at times indicated he is not running again.
But with two in the race, Knopp may reconsider. An incumbent has a strong advantage when there is more than one primary challenger.
Knopp also faces a recall effort that is underway. A committee formed and registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission to gather signatures needed to request a recall petition from Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
“Recall Gary Knopp” has acquired longtime political operative Christopher Kurka as its manager. The group needs to collect about 1,000 signatures initially, and if the application to the Lt. Gov. Meyer is accepted, will then need to gather about 3,000 signatures in order to hold a recall election.
That could take time, but supporters of the effort say they are pressing ahead.
Their initial application for a petition says that Knopp has done three things that broke trust with voters:
Neglect of duties: Knopp did not show up for several key votes this session as he was working behind the scenes to arrange for a Democrat-led Majority.
Incompetence: By purposefully not voting, he has demonstrated his incompetence in representing a conservative district.
Fitness for office: During a town hall meeting, Knopp admitted that he had deceived his fellow lawmakers and constituents. He acknowledged he had ethical reservations about going against his word when he said he would vote for a Republican speaker. He described his subsequent actions of voting for himself as that speaker as a “sleight of hand.” The trickery involved makes him unfit for office, the group says. On behalf of his constituents, he admitted he lied.
Knopp also faces the Alaska Republican Party, whose State Central Committee meets in Kenai on Friday and Saturday. Party Chairman Glenn Clary said that censuring Knopp is definitely on the agenda.
The State Central Committee removed all support for Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux and Rep. Louise Stutes when they caucused with the Democrats to install Democrat leadership in the House, but the party now has eight Republicans in the House who have followed LeDoux and Stutes.
These turncoat Republicans pose a problem for party unity in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Kenai.
Clary said the party needs to vastly improve its vetting system, and work toward pre-primary endorsements. To do so, he said leadership is working on getting districts more organized with more people involved through the precinct level.