Almanac A members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics

Biography

Elected: Mar. 1973, 21st full term.

Born: June 9, 1933, Meridian, CA

Home: Fort Yukon, AK

Education: Yuba Jr. Col., A.A. 1952, Chico St. Col., B.A. 1958

Professional Career: School teacher, Fort Yukon, 1960-68; Riverboat captain, 1960-68.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Episcopalian

Family: Married (Anne Garland Walton) , 2 children ; 14 grandchildren ; 1 great-grandchild

Don Young has been Alaska’s congressman-at-large since 1973 and is now the most-senior Republican in the House. His long political career was nearly destroyed by an influence-peddling scandal in 2008, when he only narrowly survived reelection. But Young came roaring back politically in 2010 and remains a forceful figure in Washington.

Young grew up on his family’s farm in the Sacramento Valley of California, served in the Army, and graduated from college. He had a thirst for adventure and the rugged outdoors: He remembers that The Call of the Wild by Jack London was a favorite book growing up. He moved to Alaska in 1959, the year that the vast, untamed U.S. territory became a state. Young worked in construction, fishing, trapping, and gold prospecting. He taught elementary school to indigenous Alaskan children in Fort Yukon, population 700. After spring thaws, he worked as a tugboat captain on the Yukon. He is a licensed mariner, which, in his words, is definitely not a typical profession of “one of these smooth, namby-pamby politicians.” He is temperamental and salty-tongued. To critics who once proposed shifting money for Alaska bridges to Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, he said, “They can kiss my ear.” Young was elected mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964, to the state House in 1966, and to the state Senate in 1970. He ran for Congress in 1972. His opponent, incumbent Democrat Nick Begich, was killed in a plane crash in October and reelected posthumously. Young won the March 1973 special election to succeed him. Young is not a free-market conservative and has recently voted with liberals on some cultural issues, but he is a consistent, fierce advocate for Alaska’s interests.

Soon after taking his seat in the House, Young voted for building the Alaska pipeline. But he often found that his aggressive pursuit of economic development for his state conflicted with the environmental lobby and its interest in preserving wildlife. On what was then the Interior Committee, he called his critics a “self-centered bunch, the waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual idiots.” When Republicans have controlled the House, Young occupied power positions that allowed him to work around his adversaries. He led the Resources Committee from 1995 to 2001 and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2001 to 2007. He steered to passage in the House bills allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1995, 2001, and 2006, only to see them defeated or bottled up in the Senate. His attempts to roll back some environmental rulings, such as allowing logging in the Tongass National Forest, were frustrated in the 1990s by Democratic President Bill Clinton or by adverse votes cast by Republicans from the Northeast, Arizona, and Florida. But on both committees, Young also proved capable of forging bipartisan consensus. In 2000, he got Congress to pass the Conservation and Reinvestment Act to dedicate royalties from offshore oil and gas wells to state purchases of land.

After the 2000 election, Young took over the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, arguably the most bipartisan panel in the House because its chairmen traditionally larded their bills to make sure every cooperating committee member received plenty of highway or mass transit projects for his or her district. In 2003, Young proposed a surface transportation bill with $375 billion in spending, financed with a gas tax increase. But the Bush administration and the House Republican leadership were stoutly opposed to any such hike. In March 2004, the committee approved Young’s bill by voice vote. But the House approved a $275 billion bill, without Young’s gas tax increase. A House-Senate conference committee agreed to $284 billion, a number the administration threatened to veto. The bill languished as members of the House and Senate bickered over funding formulas that granted states a certain share of gas tax revenues. The conference deadlocked, and no bill passed when Congress adjourned in 2004. Young’s proposal for a gas tax increase was dead.

In 2005, he tried again and got the House to pass a $284 billion bill in March. But there was mounting criticism of the bill’s earmarks—special projects for certain lawmakers—particularly of two bridges in Alaska. One was from Anchorage to the largely uninhabited land across the Knik Arm; the other was from the town of Ketchikan (pop. 14,000) to the island of Gravina (pop. 50) with its airport, which could already be reached by local ferry. They were derisively dubbed the “bridges to nowhere.” Negotiations with the Senate and the Bush administration continued, and in July, both chambers passed by near-unanimous votes a $286 billion bill with more than 6,300 earmarks. They included $230 million for the Knik Arm bridge and $220 million for the Ketchikan-Gravina bridge. All told, the bill contained about $941 million for Young’s Alaska, more than any other state except California, Illinois, and New York.

That likely would have been the end of the earmark controversy, except that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August. Suddenly, there were demands that money be shifted from Alaska’s “bridges to nowhere” to New Orleans and other parts of the devastated region. “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Young said. But for the next year, criticism of earmarks and the bridges continued. Conservative Republicans as well as Democrats chimed in, and profligate spending, symbolized by the two spans, emerged as an issue in the 2006 election. It was among the factors that helped wipe out the Republican majorities that year.

For an incumbent who has been around as long as he has, Young has had a bumpy history with Alaska voters and drew serious challengers in 1978, 1984, 1986, 1990, and 1992. He looked safe for a period in the early 2000s, but in 2006, he again ran into trouble. His Democratic opponent, Diane Benson, a Green Party candidate for governor in 2002, attracted attention as the mother of a soldier who lost both legs in an explosion in Iraq, and she called for a graceful exit strategy from that conflict. Then, the Anchorage Daily News (the “Daily Screw,” as Young calls it) ran a story detailing Young’s receipt of $20,000 in campaign contributions from Indian tribes that were clients of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff; his use of Abramoff’s sports arena skybox to hold two fundraisers; and his behind-the-scenes work pressuring a government agency to give preferential treatment to tribes on proposals to redevelop Washington’s Old Post Office. Young spent nearly $2 million on heavy advertising while avoiding joint appearances with Benson. She spent only $197,000. Young won but by the considerably reduced ratio of 57%-40%.

His problems had just begun. In April 2007, a former Young aide pleaded guilty to accepting cash from Abramoff in exchange for inside government information. Records released in April 2008 showed 120 contacts between Young and his staff with Abramoff and his clients. In May 2007, Rick Smith, an associate of Young’s and a former lobbyist with the oil services firm VECO, a major Young contributor since 1989, pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators. In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the investigation had expanded to include Young. The New York Times published a story about a Young staffer altering the 2005 transportation bill to add $10 million for an interstate interchange in Florida that would help real estate developer Daniel Aronoff, who had raised $40,000 for the lawmaker. Young dismissed the allegations, telling the Anchorage Daily News that it was just “a recycled story.” Plus, he said, Florida Gulf Coast University supported the Coconut Road interchange. In April 2008, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered an investigation, and the Senate voted 64-28 and the House 358-51 for a U.S. Justice Department inquiry.

Former Alaska House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat, lined up to run against him in the general election in 2008, and Republican Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell announced he would challenge Young in the primary. Parnell was endorsed by GOP Gov. Sarah Palin. Polls in the summer of 2008 showed Young trailing both Parnell and Berkowitz, but he professed to be unfazed, saying he was used to tough reelections. During a debate with Parnell, he said: “I’ve been accused of being arrogant, being a bully, and sometimes I’ll plead to being both of those. Most of the time and every time I’ve done that is because I’m fighting for this state.” An Alaska TV station reported that Young told Parnell during the GOP state convention: “I beat your dad, and I’m going to beat you.” Pat Parnell was the Democratic nominee against Young in 1980. Sean Parnell spent $572,000, with strong support from the anti-tax Club for Growth. “We’re tired of being the nation’s symbol of excess and greed,” Parnell said in an August debate, after the indictment of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in an influence-peddling case. Young beat Parnell by just 304 votes, 45.47% to 45.19%. Only when the last 350 votes were counted on September 17 was it clear that Young had won.

His battle was far from over, however. Gearing up for the general election, Berkowitz was well funded, with $1.6 million, while Young’s resources were being steadily depleted by legal fees and by the primary contest. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $1.4 million on ads charging that Young was the subject of multiple investigations. Berkowitz and Young were not far apart on the issues. Berkowitz framed the choice as one of style, contrasting his consensus-building approach to Young’s tendency to “bully and intimidate.” He said he would seek earmarks if communities and citizens asked for them, but not for lobbyists. Young responded during a debate, tongue in cheek, that he is “one of the nicest, kindest persons in the world.” He added, “But when you mess with the state, you’re messing with me.”

In October 2008, polls showed Young trailing Berkowitz. But either most polls were wrong or public opinion changed in the final days. Young defeated Berkowitz 50%-45%. Young ran only even in usually Republican Anchorage and carried the Fairbanks area 50%-44%, thanks largely to support from his hometown of Fort Yukon. But he held Berkowitz’s margins down in the Panhandle, carrying Ketchikan, and he won the Matanuska-Susitna area 62%-33%. Most important, he carried the Bush 49%-45%, even as Stevens was losing it to Democratic challenger Mark Begich 54%-41%.

Young returned to Washington, but he was under a cloud. In November, he lost his seat on the Republican Steering Committee to Mike Simpson of Idaho; in December, he lost the ranking minority member position on Resources, the committee on which he had served for 36 years, to Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state. Young issued a press release saying he would regain the post when “my name is cleared.” He remained as feisty as ever. When the GOP caucus voted to hold a moratorium on special-interest earmark requests, Young scoffed at the idea. “To do that would be turning my back on the state that I love while handing over control to President Obama and his appointed government officials,” he wrote in a Daily News column. He also drew bipartisan criticism when he argued the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was “not an environmental disaster” but “a natural phenomenon.”

In August 2010, Young issued a statement saying the Justice Department had concluded its investigation and would not prosecute him. He was already a strong favorite in the Republican primary against Sheldon Fisher, a former telecommunications executive and political newcomer, and the news bolstered his prospects despite Fisher’s attempts to characterize Young as practicing “special interest politics.” Young ended up with more than 70% of the primary vote and went on to easily defeat Democratic state Rep. Harry Crawford in the general.

Ethics problems lingered for Young, however. In 2011, the House Ethics Committee looked into the legal defense fund Young set up for the Justice Department probe, but the panel subsequently cleared him of wrongdoing. Then, when the FBI released documents in April 2012 from the Justice Department’s case, the records showed that an unnamed campaign aide told investigators that Young and his family used campaign funds for personal expenses such as hunting trips and charter flights. Through his lawyer, Young denied the allegations.

In the House, Young is still an active legislator. He got a provision attached to the 2012 Interior appropriations bill that forbids the National Park Service from regulating waters in Alaska’s Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. In July 2011, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. offered an amendment to strip Young’s provision from the budget, but it failed, 134-237. In October 2011, the House passed two Young-sponsored bills of local interest: one to authorize hydroelectricity projects in part of the Denali National Park & Preserve, and another to authorize funds for coastal mapping and hydrographic surveys of the Arctic region. In an effort to protect the fishing industry, Young forged an unlikely alliance with liberal Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., on a bill that passed the House in June 2011 to bar the Food and Drug Administration from spending money on bioengineered salmon. Also in October 2011, Young introduced a sweeping bill – with long odds of passage and designed to make a political point – which would require the Obama administration to review and justify every regulation that became law in the past 20 years.

Young is also as feisty and vocal as ever. At a Natural Resources Committee hearing in November 2011 with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Young wore a propeller cap on his head that read “Obama’s Energy Plan.” He told Salazar that the Obama administration had no energy program and facetiously said he was in support of the non-existent Obama plan. During the same month, Young got into a heated dispute with historian Douglas Brinkley at another hearing. Young called Brinkley’s testimony opposing Arctic drilling “garbage,” and got the professor’s name wrong, to which Brinkley replied by mocking Young’s education. But perhaps Young’s most controversial comment came in March 2013, when he referred to Latino immigrants as “wetbacks” in a radio interview in Alaska. “My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he told KRBD Radio. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.” Other Republicans who were keen on making political inroads with Hispanic voters swiftly condemned him, and Young apologized for what he acknowledged was an “insensitive” term.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-5765

(202) 225-0425

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2314
Washington, DC 20515-0201

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 225-5765

(202) 225-0425

RHOB- Rayburn House Office Building Room 2314
Washington, DC 20515-0201

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 225-5765

(202) 225-0425

4241 B Street Suite 203
Anchorage, AK 99503-5920

DISTRICT OFFICE

(907) 271-5978

(907) 271-5950

4241 B Street Suite 203
Anchorage, AK 99503-5920

DISTRICT OFFICE

(907) 456-0210

(907) 456-0279

100 Cushman Street Suite 307
Fairbanks, AK 99707-4673

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 225-5765

(202) 225-0425

Key Bank Building Suite 307
Fairbanks, AK 99707-4673

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(202) 225-5765

(202) 225-0425

2504 Fairbanks Street
Anchorage, AK 99503

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

2504 Fairbanks Street
Anchorage, AK 99503

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Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Aerospace

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Agriculture

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Appropriations

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Michael DeFilippis
Legislative Assistant

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Arts

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Banking

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Budget

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Campaign

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Census

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Commerce

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Disability

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Education

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Energy

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Michael DeFilippis
Legislative Assistant

Environment

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Michael DeFilippis
Legislative Assistant

Family

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Finance

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Foreign

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Govt Ops

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Grants

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Gun Issues

Michael DeFilippis
Legislative Assistant

Health

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Homeland Security

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Housing

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Immigration

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Land Use

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Michael DeFilippis
Legislative Assistant

Medicare

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Military

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Minorities

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Native Americans

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Public Works

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Religion

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Science

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Seniors

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Small Business

Alex Ortiz
Legislative Assistant; Alaska Native Affairs Liaison

alex.ortiz@mail.house.gov
(202) 225-5765

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Bruce Newman
Special Assistant

Tax

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Technology

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Telecommunications

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Trade

Jesse von Stein
Legislative Assistant

Transportation

Scott Leathard
Legislative Director

Veterans

Jakob Johnsen
Military Legislative Assistant

Women

Eleanor Gray Mullen
Junior Legislative Assistant

Election Results

2014 GENERAL
Don Young
Votes: 125,410
Percent: 51.64%
Forrest Dunbar
Votes: 99,069
Percent: 40.8%
Jim McDermott
Votes: 18,365
Percent: 7.56%
2012 GENERAL
Don Young
Votes: 185,296
Percent: 64.15%
Sharon Cissna
Votes: 82,927
Percent: 28.71%
Jim McDermott
Votes: 15,028
Percent: 5.2%
2012 PRIMARY
Don Young
Votes: 58,789
Percent: 78.59%
John Cox
Votes: 11,179
Percent: 14.94%
Terre Gales
Votes: 4,841
Percent: 6.47%
2010 GENERAL
Don Young
Votes: 175,384
Percent: 68.96%
Harry Crawford
Votes: 77,606
Percent: 30.51%
2010 PRIMARY
Don Young
Votes: 74,310
Percent: 70.35%
Sheldon Fisher
Votes: 24,709
Percent: 23.39%
John Cox
Votes: 6,605
Percent: 6.25%
2008 GENERAL
Don Young
Votes: 158,939
Percent: 50.14%
Ethan Berkowitz
Votes: 142,560
Percent: 44.97%
2008 PRIMARY
Don Young
Votes: 48,195
Percent: 45.47%
Sean Parnell
Votes: 47,891
Percent: 45.19%
Gabrielle Ledoux
Votes: 9,901
Percent: 9.34%
Prior Winning Percentages
2010 (69%), 2008 (50%), 2006 (57%), 2004 (71%), 2002 (75%), 2000 (70%), 1998 (63%), 1996 (59%), 1994 (57%), 1992 (47%), 1990 (52%), 1988 (63%), 1986 (57%), 1984 (55%), 1982 (71%), 1980 (74%), 1978 (55%), 1976 (71%), 1974 (54%), 1973 special (51%)

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