Don Young has run for Congress 25 times, and lost once, in 1972, to incumbent Nick Begich, who was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the election. He beat Emil Notti in 1973, and then, successively, State Senators Willie Hensley, Eben Hopson and Pat Rodey. After defeating Pat Parnell and Dave Carlson, he faced Begich’s widow, Peggy, in 1984 and 1986. Then he crushed Peter Gruenstein in 1988, but had a serious challenge from Valdez Mayor John Devens in 1990 and 1992, winning with less than a majority the second time.
Young then breezed through reelection until 20008, when he faced Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell (son of 1980 opponent Pat Parnell) in the Republican primary, and won by only 304 votes. In the general election he defeated Ethan Berkowitz 50-45. He hasn’t been seriously challenged since.
Now he’s in Donald Trump’s crosshairs, and of all the targets of the former President he seems the least concerned. His sin is bucking Trump and voting for the infrastructure bill, giving President Biden a much needed win. But if given the opportunity, Young will always vote for any bill that brings federal money to Alaska. He’s the king of pork, and the proud sponsor of the infamous “bridge to nowhere”, which was so outrageous it helped bring an end to congressional earmarks. He never has, and he never will, pay a political price for bringing the bacon home to Alaska.
Working as a team with former Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Congressional delegation routinely brought home a billion dollars a year in federal largess, providing both needed projects and economic stimulus. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stevens had a reliable partner in the House in Don Young, crediting him with never failing to secure House passage of projects that came over from the Senate.
Don is now 88, and unable to get around as he once did. Some speculate that he isn’t serious about running for his 25th term, and may pull out of the race at some point. But now that he’s the target of Donald Trump’s ire, that is far less likely. Don relishes a good fight, and bowing out under pressure from the Trump brigade would be an ignominious end to a brilliant political career. I suspect the attacks from Trump will only energize him, and make him more determined than ever to go out a winner.
He sure didn’t seem concerned at the infrastructure signing ceremony outside the White House, joking around with President Biden, and complaining to him that his speech was too long, and Don was getting cold. Is Don Young afraid of Donald Trump? I don’t think so.
In fact, 2022 may spell the effective end of Trump’s influence in the Republican Party. He is so humiliated by his loss to Biden that he won’t let go of his claim that the election was stolen, even though no court in the land has given him any reason to think this can be proven. Every day of Biden’s miserable, disastrous Presidency is a rebuke to Trump, personally. He’s responsible for this. He lost to this guy?
A month before the 2016 election he was revealed as a sexist pig by the Access Hollywood tape, and he was written off. But then eleven days before the election James Comey of the FBI reopened the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails. As he subsequently admitted, this decision was influenced by Comey’s confidence in Trump’s defeat. Even though the probe was concluded before the election, the damage had been done. Trump the Improbable was elected President.
Trump beat, by a whisker, one of the most disliked and mistrusted Presidential nominees in history, Then in 2020 he lost to a man who clearly had no business running for President, as his brief tenure in the White House has amply demonstrated.
Donald Trump is a lousy politician. He’s one of the most divisive men in American political history, roundly despised by half the country. He’s unelectable, and only manages to stay in the spotlight by encouraging speculation that he’ll run again.
You think Don Young is worried about Donald Trump? With ranked choice voting, he’s in a stronger position than ever. In addition to his longstanding ties with, and service to, the Alaska Native community, he’s always been a reliable vote for organized labor. Against a Republican backed by Trump, he’ll prevail in a runoff with virtually the entire Democrat vote.
So get ready for two more years of one of the last true characters in American politics — the Indestructible Don Young of Alaska. When he finally does exit the stage, we’ll all miss him.
Former Alaska state legislator Fritz Pettyjohn once briefly thought about running against Don Young himself. Very briefly.