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Alaska Legislature

Holdout Kenai lawmaker agrees to break leadership deadlock in Alaska House

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 12
  • Published February 11

The Alaska House chamber at the Capitol building in Juneau. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

JUNEAU — Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, will vote for a Republican speaker of the House and break the ongoing leadership deadlock in the Alaska House of Representatives, he said Monday evening.

“I’m going to be the 21st vote to support a Republican-led coalition or caucus,” Knopp said.

With Knopp’s support, the other 20 members of the House Republican caucus could vote to elect Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, as speaker of the House when the House meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The vote could have taken place Monday evening but for the absence of Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski.

None of the House members contacted by the Daily News late Monday were willing to say that such a vote will take place. Given the tight margins in the House, if only one supportive representative changes his or her mind, the vote would fall apart.

“Hopefully we’ll get something put together, get an organization put together,” Talerico said after Monday’s inconclusive floor session.

Talerico did not acknowledge that he has 21 votes, saying, “I certainly couldn’t guarantee it, but I would hope that we could do that.”

Last year’s speaker of the House, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, deferred comment, as did Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Both are leaders of the bloc that has voted against Talerico for speaker.

Every House member contacted by the Daily News was unwilling to state that Knopp’s decision would immediately lead to the election of Talerico as speaker.

“We’ll see what the board says tomorrow,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage.

Monday was the 28th day of the legislative session; the old record for disorganization was 22 days, in 1981. Without a speaker of the House, legislation cannot be introduced, bills cannot advance, and the general activities of the House are limited. Twenty-one votes are needed in the 40-person House to elect a speaker.

Lawmakers have attempted to find those 21 votes but have been repeatedly stymied.

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 has been a potential swing vote but said in December that he would seek to create a new coalition majority rather than join a bare-minimum Republican majority.

That is still his preference, he said Monday, and he still believes a bare-minimum Republican majority is doomed.

“I don’t care who the leadership is. I don’t think it has any chance of success,” he said.

He believes a bare-minimum majority will fracture on budgetary issues, but he said Monday that the problems to come are less than the problems already facing the House.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will introduce a significantly smaller state budget to the Legislature on Wednesday, and unless the House elects a permanent leader, it cannot hold regular meetings to discuss that budget.

Knopp, speaking frankly about his decision, said he labored over the choice.

“I decided probably Friday, maybe Saturday, that I was going to announce that I was ready to support an organization,” he said.

He didn’t know at the time whether it would be a predominantly Democratic coalition or a Republican bloc. He said Monday that he believed there were four Republicans willing to join the Democratic coalition, and in a joint meeting of the Republican bloc Monday afternoon, he said he would be willing to join either group.

“The real question is do you want me back?” he said he told the group.

After his announcement, a member of the Republican bloc told him that the four defecting Republicans had reneged on their decision and were again supporting Talerico for speaker of the House.

“I’m not likely to renege on the promise I made to them,” he said of his choice to back a Republican.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Knopp said he would back Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, for speaker of the House. Knopp said he would vote for a Republican, not Talerico specifically.

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