This story has been updated multiple times as additional sources become available. It’s been most recently updated at 8:40 a.m., Fen. 12 to reflect conflicting accounts of what happened with the proposed coalition.
Just like President Donald Trump’s government shutdown over the border wall accomplished nothing other than setting a record, it appears that things are headed the same direction for Rep. Gary Knopp’s shutdown of the Alaska House.
After leaving the House completely unable to conduct business for a record 28 days in hopes of establishing a more durable bipartisan coalition, the Kenai Republican announced this evening that he’s caved and will be lending his vote to the 21-member Republican majority that was announced less than 24 hours after polls closed in November.
“I’m going to be the 21st vote to support a Republican-led coalition or caucus,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.
Knopp left the majority shortly after it formed, arguing that any one member of the group—particularly Rep. David Eastman (who’s also outlined the process for recalling Knopp in recent Facebook posts (from Feb. 5))—would effectively hold veto power over anything and everything the group hoped to accomplish. Knopp hoped for a larger bipartisan majority that would be able to stand up to the immense political pressures that this session has in store, but those efforts have failed to materialize.
Without a permanent speaker in place, the House has been paralyzed. It has been unable to introduce bills, form committees, hold official hearings or even assign offices. Instead, some members have been participating in informal hearings that mimic the traditional House Finance Committee overviews held in the early days of the session. With Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s cuts-filled budget due out on Wednesday, it was widely expected to be the deadline for a House coalition to form.
Instead, it appears that Knopp’s fortitude ran out early—perhaps a little too early.
With attempts at a coalition still reportedly underway, Knopp’s announcement took the capitol—including both new and veteran Republicans—by surprise on Monday night, one source said. That was because, as two separate sources confirmed, there was a deal for a bipartisan coalition in place as of Monday afternoon that included at least four Republicans joining onto the remnants of the Democrat-led coalition from last year (which currently is home to 16 Democrats, two Republicans and an independent).
Our sources say Knopp had been called into a Republican’s office to hear an overview of the deal, but surprised everyone by declaring he was actually on board with a 21-member all-Republican caucus. Both sources say they believe Knopp likely heard the framework of the proposed coalition—which would have seen a minimum of seven Republicans (the four, the two already in the coalition and Knopp) in the coalition—before he decided to lend his support to a framework he says is destined to fail.
His announcement soured the at least one of the Republicans on the deal, effectively killing it.
However another account suggests that Knopp may not have known about the plan, and the proposed coalition was already coming apart.
Details on the proposed coalition are not entirely clear, but it sounds like the four would have taken key roles in the coalition such as a co-chairmanship of the House Finance Committee (though none would take over as speaker). The alliance was seen as a first step with the offer for additional Republicans to join on later.
It’s also not immediately clear whether Knopp won any concessions from fellow Republicans—who’ve spent much of the impasse questioning Knopp’s motives and character—but it’s clear that they certainly don’t have his vote of confidence.
“I asked them to be really sure that they wanted me to come join them,” he told KTOO. “I said, ‘You’re setting yourself up for failure. You don’t have any chance of success. I still believe that, if you can’t entice some other people to come into the caucus.’”
Republicans have attempted to pick off Democrats throughout the impasse, even go so far as to publicize the efforts last week, but moderate members of the coalition have all signed an agreement to stick together.
It sounds like Knopp’s concerns extend to other Republicans in the 21-member majority, but whether they speak up or try to revive the coalition has yet to be seen.
For now, one source said, “Who knows what’ll happen tomorrow.”
Why it matters
Knopp’s decision effectively puts all 21 Republican members of the new majority in the driver’s seat for this session’s political agenda. That, of course, includes calls for privatizing police, removing the sex from sex education and instituting work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It also is likely a majority that will put Rep. David Eastman in charge of the Health and Social Services Committee.
With Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s insistence on avoiding using savings for the budget—a move that would require a three-quarter vote of each chamber (30 in the House)—it also means the minority will have little to no leverage in budget discussions.