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Carey: So many Alaska voters look in the mirror and see Don Young, the shoo-in

  • Author: Michael Carey
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published October 7, 2014

In less than a month, Alaskans will once again re-elect Congressman Don Young. No disrespect to Forrest Dunbar, but the voters will say no to him as they have said to Democrats challenging Don since disco became an American craze.

Young, 81, won his first term in a 1973 special election after Congressman Nick Begich disappeared during a campaign flight. He has won every election bid since and is the longest-serving Republican in the House of Representatives.

It has been years since Young was a power in Washington, and his transgressions of decorum -- and the rules of the House -- are as legendary as his misuse of the English language.

I am not going to run the complete Don Young highlight reel -- which includes Don crudely lecturing Fairbanks high school kids on homoerotic art, sticking his hand in a leg-hold trap before a House committee, receiving formal and informal rebukes from his colleagues, invoking "Pribilof's dog." Reciting those incidents at length upsets Don's staff.

I hope I won't upset them by saying that after sticking out his tongue and making faces at colleagues on the House floor recently and exploding at Dunbar in Kodiak the other day, an outburst featuring the claim he once killed a man, Don deserves a mental status exam. He has been obnoxious for years; now maybe he is crazy. Of course nobody can force Don to get his head examined. Sanity is not a constitutional requirement for membership in the House of Representatives.

Why do Alaskans keep returning Don Young despite overwhelming evidence that his best days as the smiling, earnest representative of the 49th State are so far behind him nobody -- possibly not even Don -- remembers them?

He is a Republican, and many Alaskans would rather burn in hell than vote Democratic. He always campaigns with bags full of special interest money. He has developed influential allies who have benefited from his legislation and favors, especially in the Alaska Native community. Nobody in Alaska politics can match his colorful anti-government rhetoric. He is, especially for older voters who have watched him for years, something of a habit.

But I think there is another reason -- an uglier reason -- for Don's success.

Alaskans' contempt for Congress -- and more generally Washington D.C. -- has been well documented. This contempt manifests itself in inflamed public statements and lawsuits, newspaper columns and letters, legislative bills and resolutions, and occasional anti-Washington rallies and protests.

Contempt for Washington is a political staple in many states. But Alaskans have gone a step further. By voting for Don Young, Alaskans are telling people in those other states, "Oh, so you think you are showing Washington how little respect you have for the nation's capital? Well, we are giving Washington Don Young to make a mockery of the presumptions and pieties of officialdom, legislative norms, local tradition, and all the unholy pretenses of that stinking swamp along the Potomac. You want to know what contempt for those who rule us from afar is? Electing Don Young, and we do so proudly."

Congress will discover a vaccine to prevent Ebola before Alaska sends Don Young packing. He gets re-elected and re-elected because he genuinely represents so many of us.

Michael Carey is an Alaska Dispatch News columnist.

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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