Don Young should go

There's much more to legislating than seniority

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

As far as I'm concerned, the day we dump Don Young can't come soon enough.

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I admit I savor his abuses of the English language, but it's becoming clear that his antics are more than just embarrassing. He's been linked to the corrupt lobbyist George Abramoff, to the corrupt Wisconsin businessman Dennis Troha, and now to his corrupt aide, Mark Zachares, who pleaded guilty last week to criminal fraud and conspiracy. In a deal with federal prosecutors, Zachares agreed to cooperate with the federal government in the expanding probe of congressional corruption.

U.S. Rep. Young, R-Alaska, according to a recent Anchorage Daily News report, in 2000 killed a bill that would have extended U.S. minimum wage and labor standards to the Marianas, a U.S. commonwealth whose sweatshops produce apparel labeled "Made in U.S.A."

Then-Sen. Frank Murkowski championed the legislation in the Senate after visiting the Marianas and calling conditions "appalling" for immigrant workers. "This was occurring under the U.S. flag and supposedly with the protection all U.S. citizens enjoy under our Constitution," Murkowski said in a Senate speech in 1999, according to the Daily News. Young responded by blaming the media for creating "hysteria."

At the time Zachares was secretary of labor and immigration in the Marianas, and Abramoff was the lobbyist for the islands' government, which opposed Murkowski's labor standards bill. Abramoff later helped Zachares get a job as an aide for Young, where Zachares used his position to do favors for Abramoff and his high-roller clients.

In another instance, Young successfully inserted an amendment allowing 97-foot trucks to ply the nation's highways, a move opposed by truckers and public safety watchdogs but pushed by wealthy ex-trucking executive Troha. Troha, who donated generously to Young's campaign, has since been indicted for accepting allegedly illegal kickbacks as a result of the law Young sponsored.

Young is innocent until proven guilty, and I trust he will have his day in court. But if the best you can say for the guy is that he may not be guilty of bribery, conspiracy and other federal crimes, is he really the kind of person we want as our sole representative to the U.S. House?

His key selling points seem to be seniority and its sister, inevitability.

As a small state, Alaska puts a premium on seniority in our congressional delegation. If you don't have large numbers of people who share your interests, as the representatives of, say, New York presumably have, you need another source of clout. For Alaskans, that source has been seniority.

In practical terms, this means once someone gains a seat in Congress, we ask little of them except that they live as long as possible. At each election cycle, we declare the incumbent's inevitability and brand as hopeless any efforts by credible and fringe challengers alike.

So let's say you buy the notion that Young is powerful. Do you like what he's doing with that power? Does he meet the tests of character you'd apply to candidates for your local school board?

For too long we've given our congressional delegation a pass at election time. A continent away, they're unknown to us except as champions of our misunderstood state and purveyors of coveted federal cash. (Sometimes that cash is for projects we don't want, but hey, it's free money!)

This is how we got 22 years of Murkowski, a man whose arrogance and lack of political savvy undid his career faster than you can say "executive jet" once he came back home. As governor, his penchant for doing things by fiat rather than diplomacy alienated Alaskans and shed some light on why he failed to achieve his major goals in Congress. But had he stayed in Washington, we'd be re-electing him every four years like automatons.

Seniority isn't everything. Power also comes from hard work, from persuasive oratory, from coalition building, from integrity and moral authority. In 2008, I hope Alaskans think carefully before blackening the oval by the most familiar name. And I hope Alaskans look not only for power, but at what a person does with that power.

• Rebecca Braun is publisher and editor of the Alaska Budget Report,a publication covering state government and policy. Her e-mail address is

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