Gary Knopp will represent the residents of Kenai and Soldotna in the Alaska Legislature for the next session, according to unofficial election results.
In a landslide, Knopp claimed the seat for District 30 in the Alaska House of Representatives Tuesday, beating out three competitors in a four-way race, which was left vacant after current Rep. Kurt Olson (R-Soldotna) announced this spring that he wouldn’t seek re-election. After a four-way Republican primary, Knopp emerged victorious to compete against Democratic candidate Shauna Thornton, Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers and nonpartisan candidate Daniel Lynch in the general election.
Voter turnout was high across the district. Early voting was high across the state, and thousands flocked to polling stations throughout the day in Kenai, Soldotna and the Kalifornsky Beach area to cast their votes. Not counting absentee ballots, 5,052 people cast their ballots in District 30, about a 35.2 percent turnout.
Knopp, a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member, previously ran for the seat in 2012 and lost in the primary against Olson. This time around, he led the primary with a margin of more than 200 votes over the next candidate. Throughout the election season, he campaigned on a platform of reviewing and reducing the state’s budget deficit by finding efficiencies rather than across-the-board cuts and to support Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to restructure the Permanent Fund earnings to be used to fund state government.
Knopp said he had been uncertain how the election was going to turn out before the results started rolling in Tuesday night.
“Today, surprisingly enough, I was actually nervous,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve been nervous in 25 years.”
Not counting absentee ballots, Knopp took just more than 65 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results. He said he is pleased with the outcome of the election and that he appreciates all the support the campaign had received.
“I’m so appreciative of all the campaign support we had, on the ground, everybody waving signs for us,” Knopp said. “It’s funny how much effort even goes into a state, local election. What’s always amazed me about a campaign is how much work volunteers put into it with no obvious benefit to them.”
Thornton, who ran against Olson in 2014 but lost in the general election, ran her campaign on a platform of reducing unnecessary spending in state government and reversing the governor’s June veto that reduced the amount of the annual Permanent Fund Dividend distribution by half. According to the unofficial results, she took just more than 23 percent of the vote Tuesday, coming in second. Thornton could not be reached Tuesday night.
Lynch, a political newcomer who ran a self-funded campaign, said previously that he ran because he felt frustrated by partisan gridlock both in Washington and in the Legislature. He said he planned to cut unnecessary expenses out of the state budget and implement some new taxes, such as a fuel tax to support road service and a statewide 5 percent sales tax on online sales only. With 5.99 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results, he came in third behind Knopp and Thornton. Lynch could not be reached Tuesday night.
Myers, chairman of the right-leaning Constitution Party who previously ran for governor against Walker in 2014, said he expected the race to be a little closer. Myers ran on the Constitution Party’s platform of fiscal conservatism and protection of life from conception until natural death, and advocated for reducing the budget to close the fiscal gap and balance it with Alaska’s population size.
Looking forward, Myers said he is interested to see if Knopp will caucus with the Republicans or join a bipartisan group that may form for the next session. He said that his running, even if he didn’t win, provided a discussion of issues before the vote.
“There’s really victory on many levels,” Myers said.
The representatives from the other parts of the Kenai Peninsula ran unopposed. Rep. Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) will keep his seat in District 29, representing Nikiski, Sterling and Seward. Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) will return to the Legislature representing District 31, and Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) will return representing District P, the southern Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.