Young hand-shaking way toward re-election

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

After 30 years in Congress, Don Young wants Alaskans to know he's still "fired up" about being their representative.

"I love the job and I love the state," Young, 69, said in a recent telephone interview. "This is the most fun anybody could have."

Young is running unopposed in the Aug. 27 Republican primary and faces no serious opposition in the November general election.

Young said that's because with his seniority, he is positioned to do the best job for the state in Congress. He is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"Whether people like it or not, seniority counts," Young said.

He has a campaign war chest of about $1.7 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports, but the lack of serious opposition has freed him to spend little on advertising this year.

"My campaign is relatively low-key," Young said. "I'm doing mostly hand-shaking, like I did in the good old days."

He said Alaskans he talked to during a recent campaign swing through the state are concerned about the state's economic future.

He believes the key to that future lies in cheap power - developing hydroelectric projects and continuing to push for a natural gas pipeline to bring North Slope gas to the rest of the state and to the Lower 48.

"Any manufacturing has to have cheap power to make it competitive," Young said.

He said federal energy legislation, which he worked on in the House, will help. The House version of the bill included a provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, while the Senate version provided incentives for developing North Slope natural gas. He said he will insist the final compromise version of the bill have one or the other of those provisions.

In his next term, he said, he plans to continue to focus on adequate funding for the Coast Guard and on fisheries issues.

When asked what more needs to be done about homeland security, Young said Americans must be vigilant, but he does not believe the country can be made "totally fail-safe."

He believes senior citizens need some relief for high prescription drug prices, although he did not know the details of the House plan for prescription drug coverage.

"There's a lot of different formulas out there," he said.

Young opposes a ballot initiative that would move legislative sessions from Juneau, saying he believes government actually would grow as a result.

"I'm positive it doesn't make better government, and it certainly will cost a great deal more," Young said.

Young has not faced a credible challenge since 1998, when former Juneau Democratic state Sen. Jim Duncan ran against him. Young won with 63 percent of the vote.

Two little-known Democrats are running in the primary for his seat this year, and the Green and Libertarian parties also have candidates opposing Young.

Young said no strong opposition has arisen because he works in a bipartisan way.

"This is about who can do the best job for the state of Alaska," Young said. "I'm not partisan. I've always worked with both sides of the aisle."

Duncan, who now heads the state Department of Administration, disagrees that Young is not partisan. Instead, he believes Young's longevity has made him an increasingly tough candidate to beat.

"People in Alaska tend to stick with incumbents," Duncan said.

Incumbents also find it much easier to raise money for campaigns. Duncan said he raised close to $700,000 in 1998 and spent more than that, but still did not nearly match what Young was spending.

Young avoided debates during the 1998 race, campaigning instead through advertising, Duncan said.

Also, Democrats on a national level have taken stands on issues such as oil development that are very unpopular among most Alaskans, Duncan said.

In a state where voters tend to be conservative, all those factors combine to make beating an incumbent Republican for federal office very difficult, he said.

Cathy Brown is a Juneau writer who has worked for the Empire and The Associated Press.

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