Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Congressman Don Young

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor in tribute to Congressman Don Young today, the day that Young officially became the longest continuously-serving Republican in Congress, in both the House and the Senate. He’s consistently ranked among the most effective legislators—just recently ranked the most effective member of Congress by the nonpartisan group, the Center for Effective Lawmaking. In his 46 years in Congress, nearly every project that has advanced modern Alaska has Congressman Young’s fingerprints on it. Senator Sullivan’s remarks were part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.” 

Following Senator Sullivan’s remarks, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), a former House colleague of Don Young, delivered his own tribute to the congressman, concluding with lyrics from Bob Dylan's song, “Forever Young.” Carper’s remarks begin at 12:08 in the video linked below.


Mr. President. It’s Alaskan of the Week time here on the Senate floor. It’s my favorite time of the week to talk about someone who’s made a difference in my state. As you know, Mr. President, and as all the pages know, I try to come down to the floor every week to talk about someone who is in Alaska doing a great job for America, for their community, for the state – in what I believe is the best state in the country. 

Now, I know we all can debate that. But some of you might take issue a little bit with the characterization of the “best” state. But we certainly have bragging rights on some elements that make us the most unique state in America.

For example, right now, the Iditarod—the Last Great race—is underway. Fifty-two mushers, and their dog teams—up to 14 dogs—are barreling 900 miles across the state of Alaska toward Nome in some of the most harsh conditions, difficult and rugged terrain, in the world.

That’s just one of many things that makes us unique. We have the Iditarod, the North Lights that dance in the sky. We have communities that still hunt whales to feed their villages. They’ve been doing that for centuries. We have the most fish, the longest coast line. As a matter of fact, our coastline is longer than the rest of the Lower 48 coastline combined. We have the tallest mountain in North America.

And, Mr. President, we have a mountain of a Congressman named Don Young!

Mr. President. Usually the Alaskans of the Week are reserved for people who aren’t so…visible, who aren’t legends, who maybe are doing something in their community that a lot of people aren’t noticing. But, today, March 6th, 2019, I couldn’t resist. Because Don Young, the Dean of the House, today, has officially become the longest continuously serving Republican in the United States Congress in U.S. history. Let me repeat that: Today, Don Young has become the longest continuously serving Republican in the United States Congress—Senate or House—in the history of the United States of America.

He was already here when every single member of Congress was sworn in. Think about that. Every member who’s been sworn in in the Senate or the House, Don Young was here. In fact, according to Roll Call, there are at least 75 members of the House who were not even born when Don Young came to Washington. That is an amazing achievement.

He has served Alaska and our country so well for 46 years that it was only right to feature him as our Alaskan of the Week and to make a special Alaskan of the Week poster.

So where to begin when we talk about Don Young and the enormous impact he’s had on Alaska and America?

Let me start in central California, where he was raised on a small ranch. He began the hard work of ranching young. “My dad was a good man,” Don said. “But he believed that when you turned seven you became a hired man.” He worked sun up to sun down. It was hot. Riddled with snakes and poison ivy.

When he was still young, his dad read him the book, “The Call of The Wild,” by Jack London. Alaska sounded really good to Don Young. It was cold, there were lots of dogs, no snakes and no poison ivy. 

After he got out of the Army in 1959, the year Alaska became a state, he heeded the call of the wild, headed up the ALCAN, much of which was still unpaved, in a brand new Plymouth Fury. Alaska would never be the same. 

He fought forest fires. He even owned a skating rink for a short time. But the BIA school needed a teacher in Fort Yukon, way up in the Interior on the Yukon River—a place he still to this day calls home, and has a home there. In fact, he jokes that he’s the only Congressman who uses an outhouse when he goes home. 

Anyway, he went to coach and to teach fifth grade. He became a trapper, a gold miner, a tug boat captain.

Eventually, he met Lou, his wife who stayed by his side for 46 years until she passed in 2009. Now, he’s found another partner in Ann. Thank you, Ann, for continuing to share him with us.

Don, with Lou’s prompting, caught the political bug. He served in the state House in Alaska, and in the state Senate. He learned some good lessons there, namely that his time in the state Senate taught him that he was more of a House guy—where bills move fast, where elections are right around the corner, no matter what, and where the action is.

Along the way, he had two daughters, which to Don are still the most important things in his life. And then Lou talked him into running for Congress. With the help of people like my wife’s grandmother—who was an avid Don Young supporter—he began to introduce himself to a wider audience.

Due to a tragic airplane accident that took the life of then Congressman Nick Begich, Don Young was appointed to his seat in 1973. He won the next special election, and because he’s been so effective for our state—he’s passed more than 90 bills—mostly to help Alaska—and because he knows so many of our fellow Alaskans by name, because he’s fiercely loyal, because he’s helped hundreds and hundreds of his fellow Alaskans—since 1973, he’s been reelected every year since. I can’t count how many elections that is, but it’s a lot.

He’s consistently ranked among the Congress’ most effective legislators—just recently ranked THE most effective legislator—number one—by the nonpartisan group, the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Heck, even in his freshman year, Ralph Nader said that he was the most powerful congressman in the Congress. And I imagine that he came to that conclusion with some trepidation.  

But you won’t hear Don Young talk much about these things, Mr. President. He doesn’t like to brag. He’s a humble man.

So, let me do a little bragging on his behalf. Nearly everything, and I mean everything, that has advanced in Alaska legislatively, has Don Young’s fingerprints on it. 

From the Trans-Alaska pipeline, to the Ketchikan Shipyard, to the many, many land exchanges—kind of like what we did here recently on the Senate floor under Senator Murkowski’s—leadership to the health clinics dotting our state, to the state-of-the-art Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Don Young has played a critical part in all of this.

He’s tenacious. Don Young in the House, and Senator Murkowski and I here in the Senate. Just last year, last Congress, we finally, after 40 years, got ANWR opened in terms of the ability for responsible resource development—the 1002 Area of our state. 

One of his biggest victories, Mr. President, was the role he played in the Magnuson Stevens Act, which transformed the American fishing industry. Among other things, the act created a 200-mile limit to keep foreign fishermen from plundering our fish and to sustain our fisheries.

It wasn’t easy to get that bill passed through Congress. But Congressman Young worked it on the House side. Ted Stevens, of course, worked it in the Senate. After it passed Congress, he still wasn’t finished. President Ford was considering vetoing this legislation. His Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, thought it would raise tensions with key allies, especially Japan and Korea. Because they fished right off the shores of Alaska—three miles! And we pushed them out to 200 miles with this legislation.

On Air Force One, in 1974, I believe, on the way to Asia, with a stop-over in Alaska, Don Young, the new congressman debated one of the smartest guys in Washington, Henry Kissinger, in front of President Ford on whether or not the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which would transform our fisheries, should be vetoed. Kissinger argued it should, Don Young argued that it shouldn’t. Well, guess who won that debate on Air Force One?  

Legend has it that at the end, Henry Kissinger and Don Young met for a martini after the debate that Don Young won. They’re still remain good friends today. 

Mr. President, that’s just another example. Don Young has been good friends with presidents, has discussed the issues of the day with some of the most important people in the world. 

Through it all, he’s never lost his fundamental goodness, sense of fair play, and honor—and his willingness to reach across the aisle to help another member. And he’s never forgotten who he works for. He works for the people of Alaska, and he’s remained a man of the people since he was elected. He has never, not for a second, lost his love for our great state. He could have done anything, but he chose to stay year after year, decade after decade, to serve the people of our state, and the people of America.

He said recently, “Every day I try to do something for somebody and some group. And every day I try to learn something new. We all go into ground the same way. The only thing we leave behind are our accomplishments.”

Well. He’s notched numerous accomplishments, and he’s far from finished. And if I had my guess, I’d also say he’s far from finished with some of his famous theatrics too: brandishing walrus parts and steel traps on the floor of the House, maybe an altercation or two with colleagues that may involve a sharp weapon, campaign commercials that border on the humorous.  

Don Young is not finished speaking his mind, and giving us his heart. It has been an honor to serve our great state next to this historic figure.

So, Congressman Young, for your service, your mentorship and your friendship with me. Thank you for all you’ve done for all of us in Alaska and America. Congratulations on being the longest-serving Republican in the Congress in U.S. history today. And, even more important, thank you and congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

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