Rep. Knopp ends Republicans’ ‘shaky’ hold on House, says it was going to happen eventually

Rep. Gary Knopp. (Photo by House Republicans)

We’ll all know the name of The Midnight Sun’s “Most Who?” legislator after this weekend, when he announced that he would no longer be teaming up with Republicans in their party-line coalition and would instead be pushing for a bipartisan coalition to take the reins of the House.

Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp made the announcement on Saturday, writing in one Facebook comment, “Frankly it is time to stop the them versus us mentality and get the people’s work done.”

The Republican was particularly critical of the 21-member majority Republicans claimed less than 24 hours after polls closed, rightly pointing out that it was headed to a mid-session implosion when it relied on members like Rep. David Eastman, the censored Wasilla Republican who cast 67 75 “solo” no votes on the House floor. And there’s also possible Eastman allies Reps.-elect Sarah Vance and Ben Carpenter (who wrote, “This is more politics as usual. The story is being sold with half truths and concealing personal motivations with talk of taking a higher road. Buyer beware!” )

“You’d be foolish to go to Juneau with such a shaky caucus and then implode once you’re in session,” Knopp told Radio KINY. “This needs to be hammered out now.”

That’s not to mention the fact that two members of the 21-member majority are in perilous spots with the results of Bart LeBon’s one-vote victory heading to the Supreme Court and the selection House District 13’s Nancy Dahlstrom’s to run the state’s prison system.

He also appears to be troubled by the partisanship of his fellow Republicans, telling the Anchorage Daily News that the new seven new Republicans are “being organized by incumbent members that want to toe the party line.”

Knopp has been quiet about just what his plans for a new coalition would be and who it might include, but he’s said he’s looking for an even split of Republicans and Democrats in membership and leadership positions (for the record, the three Republicans who were a part of the current coalition all held leadership positions: Rules (LeDoux), Finance co-chair (Seaton) and Majority Whip (Stutes)).

One thing he’s clear on is that he doesn’t intend to join the Democrat-led coalition, which will be down to just two Republicans once everyone’s sworn in.

The background

The Republicans were quick to stake their claim on the House after the election, but were unable to provide any substantive answer when a Alaska Public Media’s Nat Herz asked, “What are the caucusing organizing principles other than being Republican?”

It was a “we’re working on it” response from the group’s chosen speaker Rep. Dave Talerico, who declined to commit the group to the full-sized dividend promised by Gov. Mike Dunleavy let alone the repayment of past dividends or the full repeal of criminal justice reform.

The inability for the Republicans to hit the ground running with any semblance of a unified vision isn’t particularly surprising if you paid attention to the minority during the last session. While much attention was spent on the battles within the majority—particularly between Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, and Sam Kito, D-Juneau—the division in the minority was stark.

It just didn’t happen to matter as much when their chief job was to serve as opposition.

But take a look at the two most-aisle crossing votes taken in the last session: On House Bill 331, which reworked the state’s oil tax credit program, and Senate Bill 26, which put into law the restructuring of the Alaska Permanent Fund (oh, right, all this is in law, huh?).

Both bills split each caucus, with the far left and the far right (for the most part) refusing to sign on. It fell to the moderates to get the job done. A majority of the votes cast for House Bill 331, for that matter, actually came from the Republican minority, and eight of the 23 votes in favor of Senate Bill 26 came from the Republican minority.

Neither would have passed without bipartisan support.

Knopp’s got evidence to back up his claims that bipartisanship is needed to get things done in Juneau.

While some members have left the House, either by joining the Senate or losing in November, the votes on these two bills will likely be the building blocks of a new majority.

Will Knopp’s coalition keep greenie Anchorage Reps. Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson at the helm of the House Resources Committee? Probably not. But then again, it’s not about to put Rep. David “You have individuals who are in villages and are glad to be pregnant, so that they can have an abortion because there’s a free trip to Anchorage involved” Eastman at the head of the House Health and Social Services Committee.

And with that in mind, it’s hard to argue with Knopp’s position that Alaska’s best served when politicians are working across party lines, not toeing them.

Just one more thing

In our best Columbo impression: So one other thing, um, what will this mean for the House’s selection of its member on the Alaska Redistricting Board?

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