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This is what happens when you get in Don Young's way

  • Author: Dermot Cole
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 10, 2015

In 2005, Rep. Don Young included a down payment on the Knik Arm Crossing in a federal highway bill. When the bill emerged in its final form, the bridge had his name on it.

Sec. 4411 of the bill said, "The Knik Arm bridge in Alaska to be planned, designed, and constructed pursuant to section 117 of title 23, United States Code, as high priority project number 2465 under section 1702 of this Act, is designated as Don Young's Way.'"

Some critics lambasted the $230 million earmark as an example of Young's appetite for pork, but the name had been bestowed by Sen. Ted Stevens. "I didn't name that bridge," Young told reporters. But, he added, "I certainly wasn't going to turn it down."

"Names are strange things," he said. "After you're gone, you don't remember the name. But it'll be a legacy for my grandkids."

Thanks to the storm of backlash generated by Hurricane Katrina about the "bridges to nowhere," Don Young's Way exists today in name only, but we received a new reminder Thursday that no one gets in Don Young's way.

This insignificant episode would have passed unnoticed, but like so many other incidents in recent years, it took place in front of a camera with the digital world as a witness. There was a look of astonishment on the face of Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican, as Young shoved him aside on CNN.

Representing all Alaskans, Young growled, "Move it -- out of the way" when the throng did not part to allow passage. He was like a halfback hitting the defensive line, though everyone was too polite to push back.

Seeing this latest addition to the highlight reel, I was reminded of the time 30 years ago when one of my strong-willed nephews kept shouting, "Clear the way! Clear the way!" to get his cousins to move out of the driveway so he could ride his tricycle without hitting them. It didn't work for him in preschool any more than it worked for Young in the congressional hallway. Had they said the magic word, things might have been different.

Young has long had employees on the payroll who portray any outburst as reasonable. Serving as the opposite of Luther, the "Key & Peele" anger translator who expresses Obama's hidden rage, these employees are called upon to issue measured statements about what Young was really thinking. In this case, the congressman was in a hurry and trying to get to the House floor. End of story. Serenity now.

I don't want to be overly critical or make too much about this because, all too often, I too have acted like a jerk, frustrated by those who don't get out of the way. I've known impatience all my life, so I speak from experience.

But when I behave like a jackass, I try to recognize that it happened, and I don't attempt to excuse the behavior by pretending it was noble or dignified.

I wouldn't have written a word about this incident, which lasted all of three seconds, but for one thing. Someone in Young's office decided to offer a Facebook reference Thursday night to the hallway outburst: "257 House Republicans in gridlock after a canceled leadership election, someone had to take charge."

It works as a joke, if that was the idea. If not, there's a big problem with Don Young's way.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com..

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