Skip to main Content

Despite recent missteps, Young sweeps back into office over Dunbar

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published November 4, 2014

U.S. Rep. Don Young, facing his closest general election fight since 2008, beat Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar on Tuesday, securing his 22nd term in Congress.

With all 441 precincts reporting, Young polled 52 percent, compared to Dunbar's 40 percent, with Libertarian Jim McDermott taking 7 percent.

"I want to thank the Alaskan people that have stuck with me through what I call the thick times," Young said. "I'm still effective in what I do. I ran a very positive campaign."

He said he felt good about the victory and that it backed up what he has always believed: "I've always said there's going to be 40 percent of the people that don't vote for Don Young because I speak the truth. And that causes a lot of concern. I've always been that way. I'll continue to be that way."

"With the people of Alaska, they support me and I'm very happy about that," he said.

Dunbar, meeting with supporters in Anchorage shortly after the polls closed, said he would consider running again in two years, though he could not say for sure. One of those meeting him at the Brown Bag Sandwich Co. in downtown Anchorage was Willie Hensley, the Democratic nominee for Congress in 1974.

Hensley collected 46 percent of the vote that year, a level that Dunbar said he would be thrilled to match this year. Dunbar was trailing that level but he said he is thinking about running for the office again in two years. He said that people who have his yard signs should hold on to them.

"It doesn't seem like the end," Dunbar told his supporters after results started to arrive shortly after 9 p.m. "It seems like the end of the beginning."

"Either way, it's been a great experience," he said of the race against Young. "I'm proud and thankful for my staff and for the volunteer support. It has been amazing."

Despite a series of campaign missteps over the past year -- capped by remarks about suicide two weeks ago in Wasilla and Palmer -- Young prevailed in the overall vote count, though not by the margins he has enjoyed in the past.

He said that with the removal of Sen. Harry Reid as Majority Leader, the Congress is likely to approve a series of bills for consideration by President Barack Obama dealing with energy, taxes and other issues.

"Then he can veto them if he wants to, that's fine," said Young.

"You can't lead when you've got a dog that faces backwards, that's Harry Reid," he said.

In one of three pre-election debates, Young said, "I am the congressman, have been the congressman, because you've let me be congressman and I've done the job."

Young, a member of Congress since 1973, struck familiar themes in his campaign -- arguing that his seniority is important and that his effectiveness in the nation's capital has not been diminished, though Dunbar challenged Young in debates about his lack of a committee chairmanship, even with his seniority.

Young said everyone in Congress knows him, and while some may not like him, everyone respects him.

"I still have that input with the other chairmen," Young said during the campaign.

Dunbar, 30, said that Young may act like a Kodiak bear but he's more of a Chihuahua in Washington, D.C., as he has been pushed out of the power structure because of his ethics violations.

"He's no longer the force he once was," Dunbar said.

Young said he remains the chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, which is "crucially important" to the state.

The two had only three joint appearances, and in each they clashed over why Young is no longer a committee chairman. Dunbar also brought up recent controversies surrounding Young's ethics, including a rebuke from the House Ethics Committee in June.

Young said he was found "not guilty" of all ethics charges, despite a letter of reproval he received in June that required him to pay back $59,083 for improper trips and gifts.

Dunbar is the 19th Democrat to fail to unseat Young. Pegge Begich, widow of Nick Begich, ran twice, as did John Devens and Clifford Greene.

Young made headlines in the last month of the campaign mainly because of his remarks on suicide at Wasilla High School and the Palmer Senior Center, leading to an apology he delivered before the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Young's closest race occurred in 1990, when he won with 52 percent of the vote over Valdez Mayor John Devens, with Devens collecting 48 percent.

In 2008, he won with 50 percent of the vote against state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, who had 45 percent.

Young won by 9,000 votes in 1992. He beat Berkowitz by 16,000 votes in 2008.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.