Don Young, in absentia at Fairbanks town hall, still gets an earful

FAIRBANKS—The town hall meeting featured pointed questions on health care, climate change, science and Planned Parenthood, all addressed to the man who wasn't there, Rep. Don Young.

The Congressman for All Alaska does not do town hall meetings, his office told the groups that asked for the meeting, Indivisible Alaska and March on Fairbanks, organizations that took shape as part of the Trump administration protest movement.

"The modern town hall has taken an unfortunate turn as a 'show' for the media and are unproductive for meaningful dialogue," a staff member for Young wrote in denying a request for a face-to-face session.

Retired Fairbanks biologist and teacher Linda Schandelmeier, one of those who repeatedly asked for a meeting, said she and others disagree with that comment and promised a "productive and respectful event."

That's what happened Monday afternoon, when 45 people gathered to ask questions of Young at the Noel Wien Library, although the congressman's only presence was in the form of an 8-by-10 color photo and an old campaign sign.

Young and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan pick and choose their appearances on trips to Alaska and stay away from public meetings likely to be dominated by people who may challenge their assertions.

They speak mainly to business groups, service clubs, elected officials, Republican gatherings and in other controlled settings that draw friendly audiences. The Alaska trio has seen what is happening elsewhere and realize that the contentious meetings are a sign of alarm about what is taking place in Washington, D.C. To Young, this is a "show" for the media.


The downside is that members of our congressional delegation are missing the chance to better understand the range of public views in Alaska when they deal with critics largely through form letters and press releases written by someone else.

An event similar to the Fairbanks gathering — with three empty spaces for the Alaska delegation — took place Wednesday at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the Fairbanks meeting in the Noel Wien Library auditorium, there were genuine disagreements with Young's positions, but no insults or personal attacks.

One by one, the speakers faced a video camera and asked Young questions and gave him advice, with some suggesting it would have been better had he attended.

Here is a sample of their remarks to Young:

Jim Kowalsky: It's time to recognize the value of wild places and join others in working for better stewardship of land and wildlife. "We're the same age, you and I. I invite a wakeup call. It's not too late."

Cheryl Keepers: "One way to save some money is to not build the wall. A wall between the U.S. and Mexico would be a huge waste of money."

Don Callahan: Nothing of substance is being done about the deaths from heroin.  "When will you and your fellow congressional members do something realistic to reduce the drug abuse in America?"

Tom Weingartner:  "While the U.S. cuts science funding, India, China, Western European nations are substantially increasing their investments in fundamental research."

Robin Barker:  "I hope that we can just leave Obamacare in place and fix any of the problems that have come up . . . although I would much prefer to see a single-payer system in this country."

Roger Kaye: Do you really believe that 97 percent of atmospheric scientists are wrong about climate change? "If they are right, if you are wrong, how do you think history is going to judge you and this state?"

Bernardo Hernandez: "I'm asking you, Rep. Don Young, to work with others in Congress to craft a new immigration policy that builds into it a path to citizenship."

Sharon Alden: The nation needs a single-payer system for health care and not one that ties coverage to employment. "There are still people who are not able to get coverage now and it's a scandal and a tragedy."

Fran Mauer:  Stop trying to rescind the eastern Interior land management plan created by the Bureau of Land Management. "This plan was over eight years in the making and represents a good example of where the federal government actually listened to local Alaskans."

William Schneider: "We can't just depend on electronic means of communicating or form letters coming back and forth. We need that interaction. We need the question, the answer, the response, the second response."

Jimmy Fox: The so-called "HONEST" act, co-sponsored by Young, would curb the use of science by the Environmental Protection Agency and is a dishonest measure.

Charles Simmons: "Just at the time when we need to be taking meaningful action on climate change we're running backwards."


Marilyn Russell:  Fix Obamacare, don't repeal it. "That was the first step forward."

Nikki Eiseman: "Our president is spending a tremendous amount of money and resources on unnecessary travel for him and his family."
"I encourage you to stand strong and call it what it is, which is just disgraceful."

Breanna Carlson: "Please consider not defunding Planned Parenthood. That is not the right choice."

Jeri Maxwell: "Encourage our president that it is time for him to show us his taxes."

Ritchie Musick: "We do not have a real stable person up at the head of everything. With his hand on the nuclear button I wake up in the morning, and many people are waking up already depressed before the day starts. Life is very frightening right now. We Americans have our Congress to fall back on."

Columnist Dermot Cole can be reached at dermot@alaskadispatch.com. 

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.