GOP Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving House member, died at the age of 88

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Don Young, an outspoken Republican and senior member of the Alaskan congressional delegation, has died. He was 88.

His office announced Young’s death in a statement Friday night.

“It is with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce that Congressman Don Young (R-AK), Dean of the House of Representatives and Honored Champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people who he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side,” his rep Zach Brown said in a statement.

Young, who was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1973, was known for his rugged style. In his later years in office his colorless comments and gaffes sometimes overshadowed his work. When re-elected in 2014, he described himself as intense and far from perfect, but said he will not stop fighting for Alaska.

Born on June 9, 1933 in Meridian, California, Young was raised on a family farm. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching from Chico State College, now known as California State University, Chico, in 1958. According to his official biography, he also served in the US Army.

Young came to Alaska in 1959, the same year Alaska became a state, and credited Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” which his father read to him, with drawing him north.

“I can’t stand heat, and I’ve worked on a ranch, and I’ve always dreamed of somewhere that’s cold and no snakes and no poison oak,” Young told The Associated Press in 2016. After leaving the military and his father’s death, he told his mother he was going to Alaska. She questioned his decision.

In this August 26, 2020 photo, U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaskan Republican, speaks during a ceremony in Anchorage, Alaska celebrating the opening of an office of the Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case, which focuses on Cases of missing or murdered will specialize in Indigenous Women.
Rep. Don Young was known for supporting Alaska’s oil pipeline system and opposing “extreme environmentalists.”
AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

“I said, ‘I’m going upstairs to herd dogs, catch furs and I want to mine gold.’ And I did,” he said. It was in Alaska that he met his first wife, Lu, who convinced him to go into politics, which he described as somewhat unfortunate — it sent him to Washington, DC, “a place that’s hotter than hell in the summer.” And there are many snakes here, two-legged snakes.”

In Alaska, Young settled in Fort Yukon, a small community accessible primarily by air at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers in the state’s rugged, rugged interior. He had jobs in areas such as construction, trapping, and commercial fishing. He was a tugboat and barge driver who delivered to villages along the Yukon River and, according to his biography, taught fifth grade at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. With Lu he had two daughters, Joni and Dawn.

He was elected Mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964 and elected to the House of Representatives two years later. He served two terms before winning election to the State Senate, where he said he was unlucky. Lu said he had to quit the job, to which he resisted, saying he would not quit. He recalled that instead she encouraged him to run for US House, saying he would never win.

Rep. Don Young was last seen on September 30, 2021 at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington DC.
Rep. Don Young was last seen on September 30, 2021 at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington DC.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

In 1972, Young was the Republican challenger to Rep. Nick Begich. Three weeks before the election, Begich’s plane on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau disappeared. The Alaskans re-elected Begich anyway.

Begich was pronounced dead in December 1972 and Young won a close special election in March 1973. He retained the seat until 2022 and ran for re-election in November.

In 2013, Young became the longest-serving member of Alaska’s congressional delegation, surpassing the late US Senator Ted Stevens, who has served 40 years. That year he also became the longest-serving Republican in the US House of Representatives.

In 2015, nearly six years after Lu Young’s death and on his 82nd birthday, Young married Anne Garland Walton in a private ceremony in the US Capitol Chapel.

In this November 3, 2016 file photo, U.S. Representative Don Young, R-Alaska, waits for a televised debate to begin on Alaska Public Television in Anchorage, Alaska. Young, who is seeking a 26th term in the US House of Representatives, will face a high-profile challenger in the state in 2022.
MP Don Young was hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19 in 2020.
AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, file

“Everyone knows Don Young,” he told AP in 2016. “Maybe they don’t like Don Young; they may love Don Young. But they all know Don Young.”

Young said he wanted his legacy to be working for the people. His career highlights included passing legislation in his first year in office that supported the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that became the economic lifeline of the state. With that successful pipeline fight, “I’ve found a niche in my life where I enjoy working for the people of Alaska and this nation — especially the people of Alaska,” Young said in 2016, later adding, “I like that House.”

Throughout his career, he has uncompromisingly supported earmarking as a way to bring projects home and build infrastructure in a geographically vast state where communities range from large cities to tiny villages; Critics thought ear tags were pork.

Young self-identified as a conservative and won voter support for his stance on gun and hunting rights and a strong military. He made a career of railing against “extreme environmentalists” and a federal bureaucracy he saw as banning Alaska’s mineral, timber and petroleum resources. He said his word was a “golden band.”

He said he’s always happy to help a voter. “And I try to do that every day, and I’m very good at it,” he told AP in 2016. At the time, he said he sent 190 of his bills through the House, and 77 of them were signed by a president.

His career has been marred by investigations and criticism of his spontaneous and often aggressive style.

In 2008, Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate Young’s role in securing a $10 million mark to widen a Florida freeway. The matter was dropped in 2010, and Young denied any wrongdoing.

In December 2011, the U.S. House Ethics Committee announced that it was revising its rules to impose new contribution limits on owners who run multiple businesses, after questions from the bipartisan Congressional Ethics Office about donations to Young.

In 2014, the Ethics Committee found that Young had broken House Rules by using campaign funds for personal travel and accepting inappropriate gifts. Young was ordered to repay the value of the trips and gifts totaling approximately $59,000 and to amend the financial disclosures to include gifts he had not reported. The committee also issued a “reproval letter,” or rebuke. Young said he regretted the “oversights” and apologized for not exercising “due diligence” in complying with the House Code of Conduct.

After winning re-election in 2020, Young announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, Months after he called the coronavirus the “beer virus” to an audience that included older Alaskans and said the media had contributed to the hysteria over COVID-19.

He later called COVID-19, for which he was hospitalized, serious and encouraged Alaskans to follow guidelines to protect themselves from the disease.

Despite the controversy, voters kept sending him back to Washington, which Young said he didn’t take for granted.

“Alaskans have generously supported me because they know I’ll get the job done,” he said in 2016. “I will defend my state to the last breath, and I always will, and they know it.” GOP Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving House member, died at the age of 88


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