Alaska state Rep. Gary Knopp (R) has been targeted for recall due to his role in forming a majority coalition with Democrats, which recall supporters argue led to delays and disruptions to the 2019 legislative session. Prior to the session beginning, Knopp announced that he was leaving the Republican caucus in order to form a majority coalition with Democrats. He said, “A 21 member caucus cannot succeed. It’s doomed for failure and I’m not going to be on that train. I’m not joining the Democrats either. I’m doing this to try and force a true coalition.” Over 30 days in January and February, Knopp helped to form a coalition of 15 Democrats, eight Republicans, and two members unaffiliated with either party.
After the delays at the beginning of its session, the legislature was unable to finish all of its work. This led to Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) calling the legislature into a 30-day special session on May 15, 2019. The special session has been tasked with passing legislation related to criminal reform, the operating budget, the mental health budget, the capital budget, and education funding. The special session could cost the state between $500,000 and $1 million.
Recall supporters need about 1,000 signatures to request a recall petition from Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (R). If Meyer accepts the application, supporters will need about an additional 3,000 signatures to force a recall election. Misconduct in office, incompetence, or failure to perform prescribed duties are the only grounds for recall in the state of Alaska.
After the recall was announced against Rep. Knopp, he said: “In the recall petition, they are welcome to do what they want to do. I don’t think they have cause, but if they want to move forward with it that’s their prerogative. I just wish it would be done by people in the district not the haters across the state who aren’t getting what they want.” Knopp was censured by the Alaska Republican Party in May 2019 for his role in the disruptions to the start of the 2019 legislative session. Because of the censure, Knopp will no longer receive support from the state party.
Knopp was elected to District 30 in the state House in 2016. He defeated Shauna Thornton (D) and two other candidates in the general election with 66.51% of the vote. He ran unopposed in the 2018 election.
Since 2011, 80 recall petitions have been filed against state lawmakers. Nine recalls were successful, nine were defeated at the ballot, 55 did not go to a vote, and seven are still ongoing. California state Sen. Josh Newman (D) was recalled in 2018. Two Colorado state senators were successfully recalled in 2013.
Alaska has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers. Republicans control the state Senate by a 13-7 margin. Although Republicans won a majority in the state House in the 2018 elections, a coalition of 15 Democrats, four Republicans, and two independents elected Bryce Edgmon (undeclared) as House speaker on February 14, 2019. This resulted in the parties having split control of key leadership positions in a power-sharing agreement. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) won the governor’s office in 2018.