Dunleavy not planning now to fill vacant state House seat

Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Soldotna, speaks during a House Minority press availability in April 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Mike Dunleavy currently “does not see a need to fill” the state House seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Gary Knopp when voters will decide a successor in November, Dunleavy’s office said.

Knopp, a Kenai Republican, was one of seven people who died in a plane collision near the Soldotna airport on July 31, less than three weeks before the primary in which Knopp was running.

Republicans subsequently sent Dunleavy a list of candidates to consider appointing to the seat. One of those candidates, Ronald Gillham, was also running in the Aug. 18 primary, which he ultimately won.ADVERTISEMENT

Gillham is set to face non-affiliated candidate James Baisden for the House District 30 seat in the Nov. 3 general election.

Dunleavy’s office, in a statement, said district residents “already voted on a potential replacement” in the primary. “At this time, Governor Dunleavy does not see a need to fill the seat when District 30 voters will make the final selection in a matter of weeks … .”

A message seeking comment was left for the state Republican party chairman.

Under state law, when a legislative vacancy occurs, the governor is to fill it within 30 days. However, the provision of law also states that “if the remainder of the term of the predecessor in office will expire or if a vacancy in the state senate will be filled by a special election before the legislature will next meet, convene, or reconvene, the governor may not fill the vacancy.”

It is not clear when or if lawmakers will meet in special session before the new Legislature convenes in January. The Legislature recessed after passing a state budget in late March amid coronavirus concerns and returned briefly in May before adjourning.

The public health disaster emergency declaration in effect over COVID-19 is due to expire Nov. 15, and lawmakers have not met in joint session to consider Dunleavy appointments.