What others say: What to make of Don Young’s career

Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, resigned from office Tuesday in light of sexual misconduct allegations against him. Rep. Conyers said his legacy would not be tarnished and denies the allegations. He was the longest-tenured member of Congress.

 

Now Alaska’s Rep. Don Young is the longest-serving member of Congress. The Republican won a special election March 6, 1973, and was sworn in March 13. He is serving a 23rd term and has filed for a 24th term. He is up for re-election next year.

What will people think of Rep. Young’s career?

Looking back to 1973 Daily News-Miner articles concerning Rep. Young, there is a clean-shaven congressman with bushy sideburns and a toothy smile. Rep. Young joined five other people with the surname Young in the House of Representatives.

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Rep. Young said he planned to keep a low profile yet cast a long shadow and work to establish relationships with other members of Congress first. “It doesn’t do any good to come down here and beat the drum for Alaska issues. That’s what everybody expects,” Rep. Young told the News-Miner in March 1973.

In April 1973, the young Rep. Young wrote an op-ed for the News-Miner’s 23rd Annual Progress Edition titled “Young looks at Alaska’s development of natural resources.”

“As far as Alaska is concerned,”he wrote, “we have been somewhat forgotten in the mentality of our country. But in this new America, Alaska will have a growing role to play. We have the resources here to meet many of the needs not only of the American people but of people in other countries. We have the beauty and the environment here to bring inspiration to those who have lost touch with the wonders of nature. And we have an approach to life, as Alaskans, which many people in other states have lost.”

He wrote, in that column, the proposed Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was the most “critical and immediate battle” facing Alaska. He added that the challenge for the “generations” is the development of natural resources.

Rep. Young’s work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, which passed in November 1973, would help him earn the honor of “Freshman Congressman of the Year” from his colleagues.

While serving on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, Rep. Young helped extend the fishing range limit for Alaska fishermen to 200 miles.

He has relentlessly fought to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain for oil development, which could be a reality with the recent passing of the Senate tax bill. Judging from his long-ago News-Miner column, Rep. Young has ultimately stayed true to what he first set out to do in 1973.

However, Rep. Young’s tenure in Congress has at times been controversial.

In 2014, the House Ethics Committee found he had used campaign funds for personal trips and accepted improper gifts, and as a result he had to pay back $59,000 to his campaign and donors.

Rep. Young was blamed for the Bridge to Nowhere project in Ketchikan, which aimed to connect the Southeast town to its airport on a nearby island and received more than $400 million in funding through an earmark in a federal transportation package. The project was halted in 2007 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, who used the Bridge to Nowhere as what she saw as an example of wasteful federal spending during a speech in her campaign for vice president the next year.

Rep. Young’s brash language has landed him in hot water on multiple occasions as well.

Even so, there is no denying Rep. Young has done great things for Alaska. Whether he retires next year or in five years, his decades-long career gives us plenty to chew on when we think of his time in office.

—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Dec. 6, 2017

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