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At this point, the election for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat feels a little like “Groundhog Day”: The cantankerous incumbent Rep. Don Young faces off against a fresh-faced challenger who promises better results for our state, only to fall short on Election Day, having failed to convince Alaskans that things would be better with a different hand on the tiller. Every two years since the early 1970s, Alaskans have opted for the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t.
Calling Rep. Young “the devil we know” is admittedly unkind, but it’s true that the incumbent has a well-publicized tendency toward gaffes — one relatively recent example: his dismissing of COVID-19 as the “beer virus” at the beginning of the ongoing pandemic — outbursts and occasionally uncivil behavior. However, many find it refreshing that he speaks his mind, unconstrained by political correctness.
The reality is, Rep. Young isn’t running to be our state’s chief medical officer, anger management counselor or health teacher. He’s running to continue representing Alaska’s interests in Washington, D.C., where his experience, leadership and relationships convey substantial benefits.
Young’s opponent, Alyse Galvin, is making her second run at defeating him after a vigorous but unsuccessful effort in 2018. As a co-founder of the public education advocacy group Great Alaska Schools, Galvin has a passion for education and other social policy, and has pointed to the fact that she would be caucusing with the Democrats in Congress, who are likely to retain their majority in the House.
Galvin is right that being in the majority would ensure her a seat at the table when decisions are being made. But when it comes to how things work in Congress, Young has more valuable assets in his longevity and the relationships he’s built over nearly 50 years in office. He has a mammoth record of advancing Alaska’s interests, particularly with regard to resource development and infrastructure. Galvin’s energy is undeniable, but it strains credibility to think she would be able to reverse House Democratic caucus leadership’s position on signature priorities such as oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 1002 Area, the construction of the King Cove Road or any of a number of similar Alaska resource and access issues. Within the House Majority, she would be a minority of one.
Given his age — which he’s happy to acknowledge, while at the same time boasting that he’d bet on himself against someone 20 years younger — Young is still energetic and sharp, and his capacity to do the work on Capitol Hill is largely undiminished. Critics point to his history of truancy from House votes, an unfair attack on an Alaska congressman who must balance spending time home in Alaska with his time in the Beltway. And he’s been far more present in his most recent term, missing about 4% of all floor votes. That’s far from the best attendance record, but it’s better than at least one member of “the Squad” of freshman Democratic legislators making waves in the House, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. And if Rep. Omar’s absences haven’t hurt her clout, it’s hard to argue Rep. Young’s have.
Rep. Young admits he won’t be in office forever, although his longevity could lead some to question that. He says he’ll happily turn over the reins when he feels he can no longer do the job well. That could be as soon as one term away, or it could be less. Alaskans will also be able to gauge whether they feel he’s still up to the task. Don Young has clearly earned the privilege of another term. Alaskans shouldn’t hesitate to lend him their support.