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Upstart challenges congressional veteran for House seat

Posted: August 30, 2014 - 6:03pm

ANCHORAGE — Alaska’s sole congressman, Don Young, has swatted away many challengers over the decades, and the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House isn’t looking to leave office anytime soon.

The 81-year-old incumbent, seeking his 22nd term in the November general election, has already begun talking about his 2016 campaign, saying he would like to serve under one more president, said Matt Shuckerow, a congressional spokesman and campaign volunteer.

“But I think it’s very important to be clear he doesn’t take any election for granted,” Shuckerow said. “It’s very much if the people Alaska are willing to support him, which he believes they will.”

Democrats, however, are hoping 29-year-old upstart Forrest Dunbar — crisscrossing the state with a cheeky, social media driven campaign using the tagline “Run, Forrest, Run” — will be able to pull off a political upset.

“We have to get past that mental barrier,” Dunbar said recently, “where people realize this is a real race here, and that he can be defeated.”

Young has been the state’s lone representative in the House since 1973 and barely has to campaign for votes despite issues that could have undone lesser politicians.

Young has weathered ethical clouds over the years. The latest was an investigation by the House Ethics Committee that recently found he violated House rules by using campaign funds for personal trips and accepting improper gifts. His career also has been marred by verbal blunders, such as using an ethnic slur to describe Hispanic migrant workers last year. In this race and past campaigns, Young also has been criticized for what opponents call a poor congressional attendance record.

Young said he regretted what he called “oversights” in the ethics case and paid $59,000 to his campaign and donors as recommended. He apologized for the offensive comment about. And Shuckerow deflected criticism, saying Young’s job entails much more than attendance. He added that Young has been present for 98 percent of the votes this year.

Through it all, Young maintains that he’s the best man for the job, and time after time, voters have agreed. Although, before becoming Alaska governor, Sean Parnell strongly challenged Young in a three-way race for the Republican nomination in 2008, coming in a close second.

“Don Young is a fixture here,” Alaska Republican Party chairman Peter Goldberg said. “He’s just represented us for so long, it’s a name that’s hard to overcome.”

Besides the name recognition, Young also has the financial edge, with nearly $600,000 in individual and committee contributions between January 2013 and July, according to the Federal Election Commission. Dunbar reported nearly $94,000 in individual contributions for the same period.

Dunbar, who has a degree from Yale Law School and spent his early childhood in a rural Alaska home without running water, is relying heavily on social media and attention-grabbing tactics to attract support.

The Alaska Army National Guard legal adviser recently took to YouTube to challenge Young to a debate, then — after someone poured a bucket of water on his head — challenged the incumbent to take the ALS ice-bucket challenge to raise money and awareness to fight Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But Dunbar said his campaign is about more than clever strategies to get himself noticed.

The Democrat says he’s a centrist, running because Young is no longer effective. He says he offers voters a real alternative to diversify the state’s economy beyond oil and that he’s willing to take a bipartisan approach.

In recent days, Young was traveling and could not be reached for comment, according to Shuckerow. He said Young plans to participate in debates and forums leading to November, and is looking forward to a “spirited and energetic campaign.”

“Congressman Young’s focus has always been the same,” Shuckerow said in an email. “He has consistently stood up and fought for Alaskans and their interests in order to provide a better and brighter future for all.”

Jerry McBeath, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, noted the House race hasn’t been competitive in recent years.

He applauded Dunbar’s creative approach to reach voters, but said Young is likely to win.

“I’m happy to see Forrest Dunbar sort of stirring his stick in the muck,” McBeath said. “Because I don’t think that any political leader, any official in the United States, in our democratic republic, ought to be unchallenged.”

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jford 08/30/14 - 06:32 pm
Dump Young, elect Dunbar.

Young is an embarrassment to the state, time to give him the boot.

Norseman 08/30/14 - 07:24 pm
Our congress has the WORST

Our congress has the WORST rating since the inception of congress. That is over 200 years folks!

Time to retire this DO NOTHING congress and get some fresh blood in there.

Time for Don to head into retirement. He has many more negatives than positives.

jford said it simply and the best..."Young is an embarrassment to the state."

jford 09/03/14 - 07:18 pm
No wonder Congress has a lower approval rating than cockroaches

The ethics committee examined 25 trips that Young, his family and staff took to hunting lodges between 2001 and 2013, determining that 15 were inappropriate. The committee also said that for seven of the 15 trips, only some of the expenses, like air travel provided by friends but not previously cleared by the committee, were improper, while the rest fell under exemptions to House gift rules.

For the other eight trips, all expenses associated with travel were improper gifts or improper personal use of campaign funds, the committee said.

The cost of the trips came out to be $59,063.

As part of his penalty, Young must repay the money to his campaign coffer via his personal funds.

The focus of the trips in question came during a four-year period —2003 to 2007 —that was also the focus of a sprawling FBI investigation into inappropriate ties between an Alaska energy firm and the state's top elected officials.

Young was also found not to have reported gifts on his annual financial-disclosure statements.

Dump the corrupt embarrassment. Vote for Forrest Dunbar.

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