Washington recognizes Alaska's tireless, fiery defender in House

On Tuesday, congressional leaders praised the late Republican Rep. Don Young as a pragmatic, but gruff lawmaker who did the right thing for his constituents.

Washington recognizes Alaska's tireless, fiery defender in House

Young, the longest-serving Republican ever elected to the House, lied in State at the Capitol on Tuesday. He was one of only a few people who were chosen for this honor. Young was on an earlier flight to Alaska when he died. He was 88.

"His departure will leave Congress less colorful, certainly less punctual, but his legacy will live on," Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, said. McCarthy credited Young for sponsoring the 123 bills that were made law.

Young was elected to the House for the first time in 1973. He secured the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973, which transports crude oil from Alaska's North Slope to the state’s southern coast. This pipeline is a vital source of funding for both the state's government as well as its residents. He was also instrumental in protecting Alaska's fisheries against unregulated foreign fleets. This dramatically extended U.S. jurisdiction by 200 nautical miles.

His legislative achievements were important, but he is also remembered as a person who could be as wild as the Alaska wilderness that shaped his political views.

McCarthy claimed that he once made the error of sitting in Young's chair in the House.

"The lesson that I learned that day?" McCarthy stated, "It's true, it's true that he does possess a knife."

Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, described Young as an institution that was a "dogged and determined champion for Alaska" in the House. She also said that many Democrats had a close friendship, despite their differences.

She said, "He was always willing and able to reach across the aisle if that meant delivering Alaska." He was proud of the photos of him with the 10 presidents of each party who signed his bills into being.

To allow for social distancing, only a limited number of people attended the ceremony. However, colleagues and congressional aides gathered in the hours that followed to pay their respects one by one. They also stopped briefly to reflect on the flag-draped coffin. In the early afternoon, President Joe Biden also did so. After a brief moment, he gently touched the casket before giving a crisp salute.

At the memorial service, both senators from Alaska spoke. Senator Lisa Murkowski said that Young was "colorful and as colorful as they come." He was tough but he was loyal," Republican Senator Dan Sullivan described Young as authentic.

"In an age where politicians are over-coached, he was a throwback. He was a throwback back to a time when people were respected not for how they spoke or how they looked but for what they could accomplish," Sullivan stated.

Young won close races but many of them were landslides. Young won his most recent reelection campaign with 54.4%. He was determined to win reelection in November for a 26th term.

He stated that the Alaskans were generous in their support of him because they knew I would get the job done. "I will defend my state until the end, and I will always do so and they know it."

Young was determined to develop more Alaska's natural resources. He was frequently at odds with environmentalists and conservationists concerned about the potential damage such development could cause to the environment.

He worked hard to ensure that the state received as much federal money as possible. He was also one of few Republicans to vote in favor of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which called for $550 million in new spending over five years on roads, bridges, and rail.

Young was a champion for the "bridge to nowhere", a project that became a national symbol for federal pork-barrel spending. Later, the funding was rescinded for the project and it was ultimately scrapped. However, the controversy surrounding the project led to a decade-long ban of congressional earmarks.

Young's rough edges can lead to trouble. Young once waved a walrus penisbone at the U.S. female leader. Fish and Wildlife Service at a committee hearing. Fairbanks High School students were forced to accept his apology for using vulgar language to describe sex acts and using racial slurs to refer to Hispanic migrants workers in a radio interview.

Young was rebuked by the House Ethics Committee in 2014 for improperly using campaign funds for personal purposes and accepting unpermissible gifts.

In late 2017, Young was elected the longest-serving House member. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner recalled many of his mistakes and steps in an editorial entitled "What to do with Rep. Young's Career."

"Rep. Young's brazen language has also landed him in trouble on numerous occasions. The paper stated that Rep. Young has done great work for Alaska. His decades-long career gives us plenty of material to chew on, no matter when he leaves office next year or five years later.


 

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