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Alaska Legislature

Apparent deal to end Alaska House leadership deadlock collapses

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 12
  • Published February 12

Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai (right) talks to Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage (left) with the vacant desk of Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy in between. Talerico and Knopp each failed to be elected Speaker of the House Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — A solution to the ongoing deadlock in the Alaska House of Representatives evaporated Tuesday after Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, voted against the selection of Healy Republican Dave Talerico as speaker and a second vote to pick Knopp as speaker also failed.

Each vote was 20-20, and the House has adjourned until 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The votes followed Knopp’s disclosure Monday night that he was prepared to vote in favor of a Republican House speaker, giving them the last vote they needed for a 21-member majority in the 40-person House.

It had been assumed by Republicans that Knopp’s pledge would mean supporting Talerico, the sole candidate for speaker that Republicans have offered this year. (Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, was offered as a temporary leader at one point in the session.)

But on Tuesday morning, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak and a member of the coalition group, unexpectedly proposed Knopp as speaker. That allowed Knopp to fulfill his promise to vote in favor of a Republican leader even as he voted against Talerico.

“I never said who I would support,” Knopp said in a speech on the House floor.

Knopp said he was approached by several lawmakers late Monday (including Stutes) who asked him if he would consider the role of speaker for himself, something he called “completely unexpected.”

“I am supporting a Republican nominee: myself,” he said in response to questions from Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.

That failed to assuage the concerns of many of his fellow Republicans, who said they felt misled.

“This is a very interesting occurrence,” said Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, referring also to an “inconsistency of truth.”

Leaving the House chamber after the vote, Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said, "At the end of the day, you only have your word and your integrity, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true of Rep. Knopp."

Though 23 Republicans were elected to the House in November, they have not been united. Twenty Republicans control one bloc in the House. Another bloc consists of 19 members — 16 Democrats, one independent and two Republicans.

Knopp is the 40th vote and has said since December that he supports the creation of a coalition majority broad enough to survive the fractious debates expected when Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils a significantly smaller state budget Wednesday.

Monday was the first time Knopp modified his position, telling his fellow Republicans and then the Daily News that he was prepared to also support a Republican leader, even though he continues to believe a bare-minimum majority is doomed to failure.

After the floor session, Knopp said Stutes wasn’t the sole inspiration behind his decision Tuesday.

“I’ll tell you what really clinched the deal for me, was I got a text the other night showing me that David Eastman is organizing that recall petition thing against me,” Knopp said.

As first published by Matt Buxton of the Midnight Sun blog, Eastman was sharing details on Facebook with details about how Knopp constituents could launch a recall petition against him.

“Somebody sent me copies of that last night and I’m thinking, really, this is what I’m going to go back and support?” Knopp said.

Later Monday night, the Republican central committee in House District 30, Knopp’s district, voted 10-8 with one member abstaining to send Knopp a letter telling him to join a Republican majority or resign. Knopp said that didn’t affect his decision.

“I don’t buckle to political pressure,” he said. “That’s mostly party people down there, armchair quarterbacks who aren’t involved in these talks and discussions (in the Capitol).”

In an afternoon press conference, neither Knopp or Stutes said they know what the path toward organization looks like, but Knopp said he will continue to vote for himself as long as he is a candidate. Stutes said she will continue to nominate him.

The House next convenes at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

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