ANCHORAGE - Investigations dogging U.S. Rep. Don Young have not damaged his effectiveness in Congress, the Alaska Republican said Tuesday, and he warned challengers of consequences if they sling rocks during the campaign next year when he runs for a 19th term.
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"Those that cast stones better damn well not live in a glass house," he said.
Young, 74, has made more headlines this year for his campaign practices, his ties to convicted felons and his famous temper than for his lawmaking.
Young is being investigated for connections to VECO Corp., the Anchorage-based company whose former top two executives have pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state lawmakers.
A former aide to Young, Mark Zachares, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy for accepting $30,000 of tickets from congressional influence peddler Jack Abramoff. Zachares left Young's staff in 2005.
Questions Tuesday on investigations were off limits, Young said.
"As far as commenting on anything concerning any of these investigations, I am not free at this time to comment," he said, adding, "Most of what you've read in the paper is, I think, journalism that's been really moving this constant curiosity along."
Former VECO chief Bill Allen held annual fundraisers for Young and public records show the congressman received $157,000 from VECO's employees and its political action committee between 1996 and 2006.
"Figure it out," Young said. "Ten years, $150,000, it's what, $20,000 or less a year? That's not very much money." He has no intention of returning VECO money as some other Alaska politicians have done.
Young draws a line between his actions as a congressman and the campaign.
"My campaign is separated from my office," he said. "Totally separated, totally divorced. I am the candidate, they are the campaign office."
He would not say why his campaign is spending nearly a quarter-million dollars to retain a Washington, D.C. law firm, Akin, Gump, Strauss Hauer & Feld, or even who his attorney within the firm is.
Apart from investigations, Young remains unapologetic for his actions.
Young inserted a $10 million earmark into a federal highway spending bill to study extension of a Florida highway that could benefit a builder who hosted a fundraiser for Young. The money was desired by local officials and he has compiled the press clips to show it, he said.
Just last week, he apologized to fellow Republicans for a harsh exchange with Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., who - unannounced to Young - opposed a $33 million education appropriation for Alaska Natives. Young on the floor of Congress drew a wildlife analogy: "There is always another day when those who bite will be killed, too, and I am very good at that. Those that bite me will be bitten back."
His cause was correct, he said Tuesday.
"My job is to defend what happens in the state of Alaska for the people of the state of Alaska, and I did so. The results were good ... I've always been one to be very forceful in the heat of battle. I have not changed, even in my maturity, because I don't have the prerogative of being weak in the halls of Congress."
And despite ridicule, he continues support for two new Alaska bridges - one connecting Ketchikan to its airport, another providing a shortcut from Anchorage across Knik Arm to land in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
"The state's bridges will be built. It's a matter of when," Young said. "I think we can build this one -the Knik crossing - relatively soon. It is needed. The land necessary for growth in this state is needed across the inlet. It's a very short bridge. It's not a big project. But it's a project that created a lot of publicity because of (Hurricane) Katrina and, frankly, (Arizona Republican Sen.) John McCain, and they started this 'bridges to nowhere."'
The investigations, the questioned spending and the dustups with colleagues have not changed his effectiveness, he said. Anyone who doesn't believe him doesn't know Congress, he said.
"You will find no one that does not respect me in the Congress," he said. "You may find some that don't like me. That doesn't bother me. You'll find some of them who are extremely loyal, on both sides of the aisle. I don't apologize for anything I've done as far as representing the state."
Even with Alaska Democrats smelling blood from the nicks inflicted by the media, Young said, he does not see himself as vulnerable in the 2008 election. Diane Benson, who ran against Young last year, and former Alaska Democratic Party chairman Jake Metcalfe have said they will run.
Young has won elections by 2,000 votes or less in the past.
He expects opponents to raise "all these cloudy questions," he said, but does not intend to stand idly and let them beat him up, he said.
"Have at it," he said. "They have never been in a race till they've been in a race with me."
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