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Dunbar: Alaska voters should realize Don Young is no longer effective

On June 7th in these pages, Congressman Don Young tried to obscure his own ineffectiveness by lashing out at the Senate, claiming it has refused to move 253 bills passed out of the House of Representatives.

Read through that long, partisan condemnation of Senate Democrats, and you will find Young's primary argument for why he should continue to occupy Alaska's lone seat in the House of Representatives.

He writes that pro-jobs, pro-Alaska bills are "the types of policies I continue to focus on in my capacity atop two powerful House committees and as the chairman of the Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee."

But Young sits "atop" no House committees. He has not chaired or been a ranking member of any full committee since 2008, when he was permanently stripped of that power.

Why the House leadership permanently took away Young's ability to chair committees has received plenty of attention -- corruption allegations, centering on the Coconut Road development project in Florida that Young inserted into an appropriations bill on behalf of a campaign donor, are common knowledge.

We do not need to rehash Coconut Road, or discuss whether or not Young is guilty. At this point, his guilt is irrelevant. What matters is his permanent loss of stature within Congress.

Young relies on the fact that most Alaskans still mistakenly believe his seniority comes with procedural power in the House and the ability to chair committees. It is a misconception based on the long period before 2008, when the media covered Young's exploits as chairman of the Natural Resources and Transportation committees. Young has nurtured this misconception for his own political gain.

While his op-ed describes the 253 bills that have passed the House but not the Senate, Young doubtlessly wants Alaskans to believe that many of those bills originated in his office. There was a time, not too long ago, when many of them would have. But that time has passed.

In his freshman term as a legislator, 1973-1974, Rep. Young successfully passed three bills that he had sponsored out of the House. Over the ensuing decades, Young built up his seniority and rose to chair two important committees. While in those positions, he passed an average of 20 bills out of the House each term, an impressive display.

So how many bills did Young pass out of the House in 2011-2012? Four. How many is he up to this term, in the waning days of 2013-2014? Three.

The graph accompanying this op-ed demonstrates the clear rise and fall of Congressman Young's influence. Today, though he likes to project an image of the powerful Kodiak bear in Alaska, in Washington, D.C., he is a Chihuahua.

Aside from losing his procedural power, Young has also lost the informal power that effective representatives in Congress wield. He is isolated within his own party because of his corruption charges, his fondness for earmarks, and his frequently abrasive style. Here's an illustration: during the government shutdown in October 2013, did any news outlet, national or in Alaska, mention Young as a broker capable of leading his own party out of the morass? Of course not.

At the same time, last week's op-ed is a vivid reminder that Young is incapable of reaching across the aisle to either Senate Democrats or the Obama administration. As Alaskans, we are all upset about the abuses of the federal government. But berating people on TV or making empty threats does not win long-term political battles for Alaska.

Young's power is gone. Today his accomplishments are limited to bills any Alaska representative would pass, many of which originate with Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.

Young refuses to debate his opponents this cycle and hasn't been attending candidate forums in Alaska. This is probably smart politics on his part, because the numbers speak for themselves -- three bills passed, then 26, then back to three.

Meet the new Don: the fourth-longest serving representative in the House, with the same power as a freshman legislator. He speaks loudly and carries a very small stick.

Don Young was effective once. He is not effective today. He will never be effective again.

Forrest Dunbar is a Democratic candidate for U.S House of Representatives. He's a lifelong Alaskan, former commercial fisherman, wildland firefighter and congressional staffer.

 



By FORREST DUNBAR