District 30 Representative Gary Knopp is in town over the weekend to meet with constituents. He spoke to a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce about some of the drama that’s unfolded as the House has finally organized itself.
Gary Knopp has been at the center of the state house’s struggle to get organized this session. A few Republicans in attendance at Friday morning’s breakfast meeting were disappointed Knopp didn’t side with the party to be the 21st vote and give them a majority caucus in the house. They called for him to register as a Democrat or as undeclared.
“You can’t define Republican. I’ve never voted down party lines. I’ve always been an issue by issue candidate and I’ll remain that way. I think the Republican party has done more to divide us as Republicans in the last couple years than at any time in our state history. I think we’re on a path to correction now. I’ll remain Republican. I’ll always vote the issues, not down the party. Anybody who thought I was going to do that obviously didn’t know me very well.”
Knopp says a Republican controlled house with a majority of just one vote was doomed for failure. The coalition that will be led by Bryce Edgemon of Dillingham will include at least five Republicans, including Knopp. He says he saw a deep divide in a slim Republican majority well before the governor’s budget was released.
“My fear was that when we got to Juneau, organized as 21 and we got to policy decisions with constitutional amendments, PFD payments, repayment, our divide will be so great we will never fix it. It’s better to deal with this right now and figure it out than get two months, three months into session and completely implode. And that’s what we were on track to do. There was simply no chance of success when those policy issues (would) come up.”
Knopp has some issues with some of the governor’s budget proposals that will demand a change in state statute to accomplish. Like diverting oil and gas property tax revenue away from local municipalities and to the state. That would cost the Kenai Peninsula Borough about $15 million, according to early estimates. He also pointed out other areas of the budget where he sees value the governor doesn’t, like social services for seniors.
“Seniors who count on these are very low income. And whether you think you like social programs or not, you can remember back to the 70’s when we started the Longevity Bonus Program because seniors were flocking this state just as fast as they were turning 55. We were losing all that talent, all those retirees. Some of that was created back then to entice them to stay. Well, it’s been downsized considerably. And now we’re simply supporting those who really can’t get by on their own. If you’re giving a senior $250 a month to help with their (medical) expenses, that’s the high end, the low end is $76 a month, I think that’s a pretty responsible social thing to do.”
With the house somewhat organized, Knopp says he expects committees will be formed and can begin conducting regular business by the beginning of the week.