After successfully winning a seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last fall, Gary Knopp is making a bid for the next step up the political ladder.
The Kenai resident, originally of Whitefish, Montana, was the last to enter the highly contested race for Rep. Kurt Olson’s seat in the Alaska House of Representatives for District O, covering the central Kenai Peninsula. He faces a highly contested four-way race on the Republican ticket and, if successful at the primary on Aug. 16, a five-way race in the November general election.
Knopp narrowly won another four-way race last October for the borough assembly seat. That race was a repeat for him, as is this — Knopp previously sat on the assembly for two terms from 2006–2012 and ran for the House of Representatives against Olson in 2012.
He ran for borough assembly in 2006 because people called him and asked him to run, Knopp said. It’s the same this time. He’s knocked on a lot of doors and hosted conversations in booths at Soldotna’s Progress Days fair. District 30 residents might expect a hand-addressed envelope with some of his campaign information in it to come in the mail.
“When it’s hand-addressed, I think people tend to pay more attention to it,” Knopp said. “It gives us an opportunity to kind of get out a letter, give people update and let them know where we are.”
Knopp moved to Alaska in 1979, working in the oil and gas industry until 2000, when he moved back to the Kenai Peninsula full-time and worked in construction. He now runs G&H Construction, a small contracting business, and serves on the board of the Alaska Municipal League as well as on the borough assembly. Many borough assembly members know that Knopp comes with a support staff: his wife, Helen Knopp, who is also working as treasurer on his House of Representatives campaign, sits through every borough assembly meeting.
Although he’s running on the Republican ticket, he bills himself as a moderate and always votes his conscience, he said. He said he often takes the middle of the road on issues and is willing to see all sides of an argument.
“When I first ran for borough assembly, I saw it in black and I saw it in white,” Knopp said. “Then about 10 minutes into my first borough assembly meeting, that’s when everything turned grey. And it’s been grey ever since. Everything has more sides that you could picture.”
If elected to the Legislature, he said he would bring that attitude and experience to the future conversations about the state’s fiscal issues as well as other policy topics. The benefit of discussion adds to better policy, and he said having conversations with other legislators to determine where their hangups or ideas are will be an important part of his approach to solutions.
“You would hope most people are reasonable, and once you have a conversation, I think most people are,” Knopp said. “Of course, you have a few that are not… if that’s the case, then move on past them, because you’re not going to get anywhere. Those who are clear about engaging in a conversation and having a discussion, who are open to the discussion, then that’s where you want to go.”
He said he’d give Gov. Bill Walker a C grade — the governor has done a good job taking actions to address the budget deficit but has not done a good job working with other people to reach it, Knopp said. He favors a more phased approach than what Walker had suggested with his fiscal plan and his vetoes of many state projects and operations.
He supports Senate Bill 128, which restructures the Permanent Fund to use some of the earnings to fund state government. The state can use the revenue from the Permanent Fund earnings rather than distributing it to Alaskans and recollecting it through an income tax, which just circulates money and does not accomplish anything, he said. In general, he said he is “not a tax guy” because implementing an income tax will keep pushing the budget up and up, while a property tax punishes people who do well by charging them more for their property, he said. Reasonable cuts to government processes and finding efficiencies are important for an efficient state government, he said.
“We wouldn’t want to do the same thing again (next year), but if you had to use a small amount of earnings reserve, with a combination of budget cuts and earnings reserve being utilized with a little bit of funding balance until you get the fine tuning done, I think you get close to a sustainable, reasonable budget that most Legislatures can live with,” Knopp said. “Those who want to maintain services, those who want those operating budget cuts, and I think you get that comfort level for everybody. I think you’ll have a balanced budget.”
The Legislature’s cuts to the state’s capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects ranging from road paving to megaprojects like the Gravina Island Bridge, otherwise known as the Bridge to Nowhere, are too dramatic, he said. A funded capital budget improves state infrastructure while keeping construction and other businesses at work — cutting it so drastically without proportionate cuts to the operating budget makes no sense, he said.
If sent to Juneau, passing SB 128 — which permanently restructures the Permanent Fund Dividend program, extending beyond the governor’s one-year veto of the appropriations this year — and addressing the future economic challenges to the state will be first on the docket. Oil and gas will continue to play a strong role in Alaska’s economy, but he said the state should also look at encouraging other businesses like mining to pursue ventures. Some of the regulations on small businesses should also be reviewed or revoked to make it easier for them to operate, he said.
“It is still the foundation for all of America and all of this state, and a lot of people would like to be in small business,” Knopp said. “But it is so burdensome through regulatory actions … things are adopted by regulation that I don’t think would necessarily pass the legislative process.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.