House contenders take turns at podium

Diane Benson addresses convention after leaders reverse their decision

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The state's largest Alaska Native organization reversed a decision to bar the state's Democratic nominee for U.S. House from speaking at its annual convention.

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Diane Benson, a Southeast Alaska Native, was allowed to address the Alaska Federation of Natives on Friday after pressure from delegates convinced leaders to change their minds.

Previously, officials with AFN had only planned to allow Republican Rep. Don Young, a 17-term congressman, to speak, on the grounds that there had never been an AFN debate between candidates running for the House.

The tradition stood firm; the candidates never faced off before the audience of about 4,000 people. Young spoke on Friday morning and left before Benson spoke in the afternoon. The two are on the Nov. 7 ballot for Alaska's House seat.

Flanked by three combat veterans from Southeast Alaska, Benson criticized Young for failing to do enough for Native veterans. She spoke against the Iraq war and mentioned her son, Latseen Benson, a soldier who lost his legs to a roadside bomb there almost a year ago.

Benson said Young has failed to help cut costs on expensive rural energy and shuns alternative energy by refusing to recognize that global warming is a threat.

"I, as a representative, will do everything I can, because I am a dog with a bone when it comes to issues for our veterans and when it comes to energy independence, when it comes to representation for the people by the people," she said. "I believe after 34 years, Alaska is too old now to keep Young."

At his speech, Young counted as one of his successes a program that has awarded huge no-bid contracts to Alaska Native corporations. The program has been under congressional scrutiny as being wasteful and unfair, but Young said he would fight to keep it going.

"As long as I sit where I am as your congressman, you'll continue to do it," he said. "I always try to do what's right, and even though I may not do it correctly, it will get done, and that's what representation is all about."

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