Behind the Ballot: Don Young, Alaska’s longest-serving Congressman
After 43 years as Alaska’s lone voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, Don Young says he’s ready for another round in Congress.
“I’ve got a reputation — if I say it’s good for Alaska, I do my homework, I go to the floor, they will in fact vote with me,” Young said of his career — and he has the credit to back him up.
Last year, The Washington Post named him the fifth most effective Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, when it comes to pushing his bills through the process. That’s out of the House’s 435 members. The secret, Young says, is his handshake.
“I don’t go back on it, you know,” Young said. “That is the key to any successful elected official.”
But Young’s reputation includes a few clouds too. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a national watchdog group, called him one of Congress’s most corrupt after a 2014 investigation by the House Ethics Committee found Young improperly accepted nearly $60,000 in gifts. The congressman apologized and later repaid the money.
Steve Lindbeck, Young’s Democratic opponent in the November election, is also criticizing him in online attack ads for being insensitive to a high school student’s death by suicide in 2014.
“When we asked if there was anything he could do to help students with depression, first, he blamed us for our friend’s death, then he mocked us, then Mr. Young cursed us when we got upset,” Zach Greir said in a video posted on YouTube by Lindbeck’s campaign.
“That ad specifically I think is uncalled for,” Young said in response. “I belong to the suicide caucus and I’ve been involved in it personally. I’ve a nephew that blew his brains out and I asked myself, ‘did I do enough? Did I support him enough?’ And I say the only way you can prevent suicide is through supporting your family, your friends.”
Young has also gotten heat for not dumping Trump. When asked why he isn’t standing with the rest of Alaska’s congressional delegation in disavowing Trump, Young replied, “The people chose Donald Trump. He’s not my candidate, and Hillary Clinton isn’t either.”
Young said he’s willing to work with whoever ends up in the White House, but wants Alaska to keep its loud voice in Congress.
“Anybody that wants to run for this seat has to stay in at least 25 years, they have to do that,” Young said. “It took me 22 years to become a chairman. Most people don’t want to serve in the House that long. They will use it as a springboard for Senate or governor.”
Whether to go for a familiar or a fresh face in Washington, only Alaska voters have the power to choose.
Young’s challengers include Lindbeck, Libertarian Jim McDermott, non-affiliated Bernie Souphanavong, and write-in candidates Stephen Wright and Zachary Kile.
“Behind the Ballot: Inside Alaska’s Congressional races,” is a weeklong series airing on KTVA. The goal is to introduce the candidates who will appear on the Nov. 8 election ballot.
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