Rep. Young's record raises concern about who he is representing

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2002

Dear Congressman Don Young,

For more than two decades you've been the congressman for all Alaska.

Very frankly, however, your constituents are starting to think you are taking us for granted.

You missed 21 percent of the House votes last year, more than any of the House's 435 members. Forty-four of those missed votes came after you left the nation's capital Dec. 6. Your colleagues worked for the next 13 days before going home.

Your explanation, if you can believe what your read in the newspapers, can only be described as lame.

"I was tired of the Senate keeping us here for no reason at all," you said. "So I went, very frankly, home early. If people don't understand that ... well, I'm sure they do."

Well, Congressman Young, very frankly, no we don't.

In the real world, if we have the responsibility for making decisions and do not show up when it is time to make 21 percent of them, then, very frankly, we will not be asked to continue making those decisions. Someone who is willing to stay for the long haul is asked to step in -- someone who understands that every job has its frustrations.

We do understand that by early December, the House had passed its versions of most major bills and you were there for that work. We do understand that it took until Dec. 19 to iron out differences with the Senate; you weren't there for that. We do understand that, in theory, Congress is supposed to finish its work by Oct. 1.

We also understand that a lot happened in 2001 that didn't make it a routine year for anyone -- for example, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare which followed.

That's why it's particularly hard to understand your actions and your explanation: "I'm just a little bit frustrated when, very frankly, the Senate can keep us in. ... I voted on all those issues and people understand that."

Well, again, Congressman Young, no, we don't understand.

In the real world, the rest of us don't get to pack up and head home early because we are frustrated with our colleagues and think they should be doing things differently. As a matter of fact, doing something like that would get us fired from our jobs. We have to stay and work it out. The job is finished when it's finished -- however long it takes. If the frustration is too great, we find another line of work.

Plus, if there were ever a year where our nation's highest elected officials needed to show their solidarity -- and leadership -- 2001 was it. We suspect there was not a person in the nation's capital who was not frustrated and who did not want to get home early. It was a tough year for everyone.

It was bad enough that you left early, but that you left to attend a Texas fund-raiser while the rest of Congress worked is asking your constituents to understand too much. Interesting, you didn't mention the fund-raiser when you talked to reporters about why you left Washington early.

You weren't elected to raise money -- although, this does seem to be one of your talents. We understand you're the ninth most successful fund-raiser in the U.S. House, raising more than $1 million in 2001.

As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, we also understand you are in a powerful position. We understand that your position is good for Alaska. We understand people all over the country want you to say "yes" to their projects. Those fund-raisers don't buy your endorsement of projects, though, do they?

Sorry, but it just sounds like politics as usual, yet, you want us to believe you are a different kind of politician, still one of us.

Congressman Young, very frankly, your poor voting attendance coupled with your successful fund-raising is embarrassing to Alaska. Since it appears you will have only token opposition in the next election, do you think you could work harder to reverse those numbers -- say, have the ninth best attendance record and the worst success at fund-raising?

Or, at the least, is there some way you can use your considerable fund-raising skills to help Alaska close its considerable budget gap?

And, by the way, you may want to drop the "very frankly." It makes us think you aren't being "very frank" with us the rest of the time.

Just thought you'd like to hear what it looks like from home.

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