The events of this week were all put into perspective on Friday (July 31) when Representative Gary Knopp (R – Kenai) was tragically killed in a mid-air collision. Six other people in the other aircraft were also tragically killed. It doesn’t feel right writing about a bunch of stuff that happened this week that in the big picture really doesn’t matter that much. So instead I am going to write about my friend Gary.
I knew of Gary Knopp when he was elected to the Alaska Legislature in 2016, but I didn’t really get to know him until a few years later. I ran into Gary at the Resource Development Council annual conference in 2018. At the time I was working for a small oilfield services company based in Anchorage. It turned out Gary knew the owner and his dad going back to the 80s. We had a long talk about his time working in the oil industry in Alaska. If you knew Gary then you knew what a pleasure it was having a conversation with him. He always had a story and could always make you laugh.
Not long after that, Gary made headlines when he broke from the fragile 21-member Republican “majority” that formed after the 2018 election. Knopp correctly saw the problems and challenges of a 21-member majority comprised of people with radically different views of government. What ensued was a month long stalemate in Juneau where the House did not have a majority. Gary stood fast and refused to succumb to the mounting pressures on him. These included a resolution from the District 30 Republicans and even the start of a recall effort. Gary was not phased by any of it. He did what he thought was the right thing. Many politicians bend or cave to pressures like that, but Gary did not. We need more leaders like Gary. The current coalition in the House is a result of his actions.
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I did a podcast with Gary in his office in Juneau right before the session began in 2019. We had a great discussion about why he made the choice he did. You can listen to that here.
I spent the 2019 and 2020 sessions in Juneau. I was lucky to get to know Gary well. He loved to introduce me to people from the Peninsula that were in Juneau. He always expressed his appreciation for what I was doing with the Landmine. I reached out to Gary a few months ago about a story I was doing on a fiscso involving 911 dispatch centers. The Department of Public Safety had made a deal that would have closed the 911 dispatch center located in Soldotna. Gary was unhappy about this, but he was more unhappy about the way it had been done. He fought hard against a decision that not only negatively impacted his district, but that was made in a way contrary to the wishes of the legislature. Here is a letter he wrote to Commissioner Amanda Price last April on the matter.
I remember walking into the Viking during the 2019 session. Gary was there with his friend Representative Louise Stutes (R – Kodiak). They were playing pull tabs. They had been going 50/50 but were not having much luck. I bought $20 from the same bin and ended up winning $50. We all had a laugh about it. I stayed for a while talking with both of them. It was always fun having a conversation and a drink with Gary.
I spoke with Gary last week. We were looking at going down to the Peninsula and doing a video profile on his primary race. He was excited to have us come down and even offered to let us stay at his cabin. We had a long talk about his primary race. I asked him how he felt about all the mean and nasty things that some Republicans had been saying about him. He did not have a bad thing to say about anyone, just that it’s politics and that he hoped the voters would reelect him. I felt envious of how someone so attacked did not have a mean thing to say about any of the people attacking him.
Gary was definitely a unique kind of politician. He was the kind of person who did what he felt was right regardless of political pressure or what people said about him. We need more leaders like Gary Knopp. May he rest in peace.