Forum quizzes local House candidates

Business representatives from around the Kenai Peninsula gathered Tuesday in Soldotna to hear House District 29’s two Republican candidates answer questions about local and state issues. 


The candidates began with opening statements, outlining their desired goals if sent to Juneau. Challenger Gary Knopp, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly president, addressed the apparent similarities between he and incumbent Kurt Olson.

“(Olson) mentioned the fisheries issues, the gas line, oil taxation (in his opening statement),” Knopp said. “I’ve been asked, ‘How are we philosophically different?’ I don’t know if we are that different.”

They answered questions about Ballot Measure 2, the Coastal Management Initiative; special sessions; and their preferred committee partnerships among other things. The answers differed in approach to the issues rather than diverging opinions. 

Olson and Knopp are running against one another in the Aug. 28 primary election. Olson, said there is unfinished business in the capitol in which he is entrenched; Knopp said he believes the time is right for his own transition from local to state politics. 

Ballot Measure 2, the partisan initiative with a long battle ahead, was discussed first, and both candidates offered their opinions — a resounding vote no, they said. 

Knopp expressed his difficulties to understand the initiative, asking supporters and non-supporters alike what it would mean for Alaska. Also, supporting the initiative would be better if it focused solely on offshore management, he said.

“It will effect projects inland for as far as you can imagine — 30 miles, 50 miles,” he said, “no one really knows. When Walmart has to go through a 60-day review process for coastal zone management there’s something wrong with that. I don’t see a good purpose in the way it’s structured.”

Local resource representatives said the far-reaching inland potential of the initiative concerned them as well during the first public hearing held for the coastal zone management program on July 3 in Soldotna.

Olson said he worked with House members during the past two years attempting to halt the sunset on the previous management program. Their efforts were a loss, as the program died “an exceedingly slow death” due to added amendments. 

The new initiative is not an extension of the old plan, he added. 

“I believe it’s crafted not to work,” Olson said. “If you believe in anything that prudently develops our resources I suggest voting no.”

During the past six years  — Olson has served as House representative for eight years — the incumbent sat on the Labor and Commerce Committee. He is currently the chair. Some recent legislation signed into law and sponsored by the committee include House Bill 130, a building code requiring sprinkler systems in certain residential buildings, and House Bill 164, an act relating to record-keeping requirements for health insurers. More bills passed by the committee can be viewed at the House’s website. 

“I’ve got a rock solid committee, and I think most plan on coming back,” Olson said. “We’ve got a lot of good work done on a lot of good bills.”

Knopp said he would be most interested in joining the Administrative Regulation Review Committee. Pursuing issues that group addresses interests him. 

At the beginning of the forum, the assembly president said the overreach of federal agencies needs to be stopped. 

“There are a lot of things that are done administratively that shouldn’t even pass the legislative process, that are adopted through regulation,” Knopp said. “And that affects everyone, especially small businesses.”

Both House candidates agreed on necessity of special sessions. 

“There are some people around that think we can do it in 90 days,” Olson said referring to the length of the regular session, which used to be 120 days. ”But the kind of issues we have before us, particularly energy and taxation, we can’t get done. We have other issues that suck up time during the session.”

Olson ended the forum by focusing on the Peninsula’s future, which relies on job creation and development of resources, he said. 

“You know both of us, so I think it’s important you continue to vet out the candidates,” Knopp said. “I’ll make my best decisions, and that’s equally important as where I stand on the issues.”

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at