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Knopp remembered as ‘one-of-a-kind leader’ in Alaska

was written by Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO – Juneau , 2020-07-31 21:38:59

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Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Soldotna, speaks during a House minority press availability in April 2017. Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, is on the right. Knopp has left the Republican caucus. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

State Rep. Gary Knopp, who died in a plane crash on Friday, became a pivotal legislator during his two terms in the legislature. He was remembered by friends and former legislative colleagues as plainspoken and friendly

Knopp was a Republican who decided not to vote for a Republican House speaker other than himself. This directly led to a coalition that includes Democrats, Republicans and independents forming the majority caucus in the House. 

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, said Knopp was a close friend.

“Gary was a one-of-a-kind person, a one-of-a-kind leader in Alaska and he will be sorely missed by all of us in the Legislature, who at the end of the day really are one big family.” Edgmon said, adding that he was still in shock over Knopp’s death.

Knopp was an oil industry contractor who served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly before he was elected to the House in 2016. He represented Kenai and Soldotna in the chamber. 

Related: Kenai legislator killed in midair plane crash

Edgmon said Knopp was one of the more authentic people he’s met in politics, with an unmatched independent streak. 

Edgmon said flying was important to Knopp, and that they had talked about Knopp flying himself to the Northwest Arctic region for hunting trips. Edgmon said Knopp made bold decisions in deciding where to fly to and in how he conducted himself in life.  

Gary Knopp (Photo from Alaska Legislature)

“He took risks,” Edgmon said. “He was not afraid to get out in front of things.”

Knopp served in the all-Republican minority for two years. But he left the caucus after the 2018 election, citing the fact that Wasilla Rep. David Eastman hadn’t committed to supporting the caucus. 

Knopp was criticized for going back on his word of voting for a Republican House speaker. Knopp said he fulfilled a commitment of voting for a Republican by voting for himself for speaker. He came up a vote short, before Edgmon was elected speaker.

Shea Siegert is a former legislative aide to Knopp, and also worked on his 2016 House election campaign. 

“We’ve been friends since I went down to work for him,” Siegert said. “He’s been a role model of mine ever since I met him.”

Knopp was running for re-election against two Republican challengers and his death could be pivotal in determining who controls the House next session. His two challengers,  Ron Gillham and Kelly Wolf have said they want to join a primarily Republican caucus. The current majority has three votes more than is needed to hold most of the seats. Independent James Baisden also is running for the seat.

Knopp is survived by his wife Helen. 

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Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is actually the biggest national forest in the United States. It got its name from the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit native people and goes back to 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt established the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve. In 1908 the forest was renamed and expanded and at present the 16.9 million-acre Tongass National Forest extends from the Pacific to the vast inland ice fields that border British Columbia and from the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island to Malaspina Glacier five hundred miles to the north. More than 80 percent of Southeast Alaska is in Tongass and with its thousands of islands, fjords and bays the national forest has 11,000 miles of coastline. Tongass’ huge coastal rain forest includes towering hemlock, spruce and red and yellow cedar. The undergrowth underneath thebig conifers is made up of young evergreens and shrubs such as devil’s club, blueberry and huckleberry. Moss and ferns cover the ground, and lichens drape numerous trees and rocks.

Wildlife is plentiful all through Tongass. Sitka blacktail deer and its 2 main predators, wolf and brown bear, are found here. Black bear are common as well as mountain goats and some moose. Marine mammals found along the coast line consist of Dall and harbor porpoises, seals and humpback, minke and orca whales and an evergrowing population of sea otters. The seas teem with fish including halibut and all five species of Pacific salmon. More bald eagles stay in this area than in any other place in the world. Though the place to find the world’s greatest temperate rain forest, almost fifty percent of Tongass is covered by ice, water, wetlands and rock. It’s most popular ice floe is the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska’s “Drive-in glacier” because it is only 13 miles from downtown Juneau along a paved road. A boat ride through Petersburg or Wrangell brings everyone near the face of LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier on the continent. Merely 30 miles north of Yakutat is Hubbard Glacier, the longest tidewater glacier in the world and very easily Alaska’s most energetic. The 76-mile-long glacier has crossed Russell Fjord several times, lately in 2008. The rip tides and currents that flow in front of the 8-mile-wide glacier are so powerful they cause Hubbard to calve almost continuously. The Tongass incorporates nineteen wilderness areas, including the 545-sq-mile Russell Fjord Wilderness, in addition to Admiralty Island National Monument and Misty Fiords National Monument. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and the general area around Haines and Skagway are not part of the national forest.

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