JUNEAU — Alaska’s sole representative in the U.S. House now has another distinction: the longest-serving Republican in the chamber.
Don Young was first elected to Congress in 1973 after winning a special election and with the Oct. 18 death of Rep. Bill Young of Florida he became the longest serving GOP member.
And at age 80, Young shows no signs of slowing down. He plans to seek a 22nd term next year and remains feisty as ever, saying he can’t imagine stepping aside unless his health fails.
“Right now, I feel like I’m in pretty darn good shape,” he said.
Young also said he has yet to meet a challenger willing to commit at least 30 years to serving in the House, which he sees as the time needed to build clout in the chamber of 435 members.
With that seniority, he said, “I still can get things done that no freshman can get done in 10 years.”
Young was born and raised in California but considers home to be Fort Yukon, Alaska, a community of about 600 people accessible primarily by air at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine rivers in the state’s rugged, harsh interior.
He served in the Army and after moving to Alaska, held jobs in areas like construction, trapping, commercial fishing, teaching and as a tug and barge operator, according to his official biography.
Young served as mayor of Fort Yukon and in the state Legislature before he was elected to Congress in a special election to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, who was declared dead after his plane disappeared.
He said he lost a good friend with Bill Young’s passing and considers it an honor to be the longest-serving GOP member. Young said he is now looked upon as “the dean on the Republican side.”
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is the longest serving House member, with 57 years.
Young wants his legacy to be one of working for the people. He counts among his legislative highlights passage of legislation that allowed for construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline system, which has become the state’s economic lifeline.
He has been an unapologetic supporter of earmarks as a way to bring home projects and build up infrastructure in the state, backing the derisively labeled “bridge to nowhere” project that would have connected Ketchikan to the island on which its airport sits.
His career also has been marred by investigations and criticism about his attendance record, which Democrats have hit him on.
The House Ethics Committee in March announced that it was forming a special panel to investigate whether Young failed to report gifts on disclosure forms, misused campaign funds and lied to federal officials. He has said the FBI had found him “totally innocent.”
Young, who won his last election with about 64 percent of the vote, also is known for his often-colorful, sometimes offensive language, including the use of a slur to refer to Hispanic migrant workers. He apologized for the remark.
Political commentator Michael Carey, in a June opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News, said Young’s best days are behind him, but that it’s hard to imagine that Young would retire and spend his days painting or sunning himself on a Florida beach.
“Forget it,” Carey wrote. “Don Young’s bucket list has one word on it: congressman.”