SPEECH: Remembering Congressman Don Young
Mr. President, like my good friend and colleague Senator Murkowski, I rise today to recognize a giant, a larger than life man, certainly a legend in our State, and certainly a legend in the House of Representatives, Congressman for all Alaska, Donald Edwin Young.
As Senator Murkowski mentioned, we lost this great Alaskan, this great American, while flying home with his beloved wife, Anne, by his side just this weekend. He was flying back home to Alaska, the State he loved so much and served so well. It is a State that loved him back and showed him that love by electing him to office every 2 years since 1973. Think about that. Unbelievable. He was the longest serving politician in Alaska's history, the longest serving Republican Member of the House in U.S. history, our North Star, Don Young. As Senator Murkowski mentioned, he was 88 years young.
I just want to say, like all Alaskans, my wife Julie and I, when we heard the news, we were saddened, shocked, devastated by the sudden passing of Congressman Don Young. And we heard this from so many people over the weekend: his spirit, authentic, tenacious, indomitable, a man of the people--a true man of the people--epitomized our State to such a degree that there was this sense that he would always be there, that he would live forever. There was this sense, and the shock back home is so palpable because of that. Think about, almost three-quarters of our State's history, Don Young was our Congressman.
So I, too, want to spend a little bit of time talking about this incredible man, this life in full, as Senator Murkowski mentioned.
A lot of stories about being raised on a small ranch in Central California, where he began the hard work of ranching as a young, young boy. Don Young once said: My dad was a good man, but he believed when you turned 7, you became a hired man. So he was working at the age of 7, Sun up to Sun down. It was hot, riddled with snakes and poison ivy. Evidently, Don Young did not like snakes or hot weather because he mentioned often about his father reading him Jack London's ``The Call of the Wild,'' a book about a dog, a man, the harsh conditions of the Yukon, and loyalty.
Senator Murkowski already mentioned that one of the things--and I love this man so much--but one of the things about him that you always knew was loyal, loyal, loyal. What a great quality. What a great quality.
Then, of course, Alaska captured his imagination--no snakes, no poison ivy, snow. Those of us, all of us who saw Don Young over the years carry around that battery-powered portable fan, we knew that, well, Don Young ran hot with that fan.
So, as Senator Murkowski mentioned, he got his associate's degree from Yuba Junior College in 1952. He served in the Army--I always loved to give him a little grief about his Army service as a marine--Chico State, and then at an Elks Club in Chico, he heard then-Alaska Territorial Governor Mike Stepovich give a speech about Alaska, talking about the wonders of Alaska, and Don Young was hooked. In 1959, the year we became a State, he heeded the call of the wild, headed up the Alcan--much of it still unpaved--in a brandnew Plymouth Fury, and the great State of Alaska would never be the same.
According to Don Young, in Alaska, you could ``do anything you wanted to,'' so he did. As Senator Murkowski mentioned, he fought forest fires. He owned a skating rink for a short time. I would have loved to have seen that, by the way. He owned a movie theater, tried his hand at commercial fishing, trapping, prospecting for gold. Of course, he was a tugboat captain, teacher at a BIA school, importantly, in Fort Yukon, and that is where he always called home. In fact, he still has a home there. He used to joke he is the only Congressman who, when he goes home, uses an outhouse when he goes home.
He eventually met Lu, his wife--incredible Lu, who stayed by his side for 46 years until she passed in 2009. Since that time, Don found another wonderful partner in Anne. So, Anne, thank you and the family for sharing him with us.
Don, with Lu's prompting, caught the political bug. He served in the State house in Alaska and the State senate. Now, he discovered that he didn't like the senate much. ``All they did was stand around with hands behind their back and talk''--that is what he said about the Alaska State Senate.
Well, guess what. His attitude about the U.S. Senate wasn't that much different. ``You Senators are always late,'' he would often growl at me and Lisa--and we were when we had our frequent Alaska delegation meetings. But even as Senators, we always knew our place with Congressman Don Young, dean of the House. All those Alaska congressional meetings were over in his office--were over in his office.
One of my favorite things I did with Don Young, as dean of the House, wherever I saw him--particularly in public in Alaska--the first time I would see him at an event or something, I would say, ``It's the dean of the House.'' I would grab his hand, take a knee, and kiss his ring. Now, he always said, ``Stop that. I hate it when you do that.'' But do you know what? I think he actually kind of liked it. I actually think he kind of liked it.
So he didn't like the Senate; he liked the House, the place where bills move fast, where elections are right around the corner no matter what--think about that, 25 elections. Jeez Louise. I could never think about that--and where the action was. Mostly, he was a man of the people, and he belonged in the people's House.
Along the way, he had two wonderful daughters, Joni and Sister, whom he loved fiercely. He always said the most important thing in his life were those two daughters.
Lu was nothing if not persuasive. She was no doubt the boss in the family, and so when she told him he needed to run for Congress, he did. And with the help of many people--and I would like to say my wife's grandmother, her Sitsoo, was an avid Don Young supporter, flew all over interior Alaska during those early campaigns to help him introduce himself to a wider audience.
So when Don was appointed to his seat in 1973, the original knock against him, he said back then, was that he didn't know anything about DC. People said: You don't know anything about DC; it is going to take you 2 years until you can find the bathroom in your office building.
I am sure some of you heard the story that the first day in office, he combed the Rayburn Building looking for the bathroom, when someone finally said, ``Congressman, why don't you use the one in your office?'' which I don't think he had noticed. So he was learning.
But on a more serious note--and I love this story. The day after he was sworn in, there was a hearing on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act.
After being held up for years by litigation and studies--imagine that; sound familiar, America?--Don successfully pushed through an amendment--to me, one of the most brilliant amendments ever conceived in the Halls of Congress--that said: No more studies and no more litigation. We are done. We are building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System now.
It was a hard fight. Half of my side was [initially] fighting against me.
But when the vote was called, he prevailed. His amendment prevailed by four votes, and Alaska's history was changed forever. America's history was changed forever.
And, by the way, what a great idea: Stop endless litigation. Stop studying things. Build infrastructure. The country and the State of Alaska need energy. Practical, commonsense, get it done--this is why Alaskans loved Don Young so much.
The day of that vote, when it was successful, 1973--remember--Ralph Nader stood outside the hall and declared Don Young the most powerful Member of Congress--brandnew, baby freshman from Alaska, Don Young. Now, you can say a lot of things about Ralph Nader, but he knew power when he saw it, and Don Young had it, kept it. He went on to win every election after that.
And, as Senator Murkowski mentioned, more than 90 bills that he sponsored became law, thousands more that he cosponsored--mostly to help Alaska but to help our whole country. And he became a fierce advocate for helping people--thousands and thousands of Alaskans and Americans.
Every 2 years since 1973, Alaskans could count on Don Young, during 1 of his 24 elections, standing on a corner with his supporters--many here today--waving signs in the cold in November back home, wearing his old winter coat. And if you didn't know it then--and few Alaskans didn't know--you wouldn't guess that the man in those clothes had so much power and had done so much to help his fellow Alaskans and fellow Americans. Nearly everything--and I mean everything--that has advanced to benefit our State in the Congress has Don Young's fingerprints on it. The Alaska we know today is only possible because of Don Young.
As I mentioned, there is, of course, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which transformed our State and our Nation, as well as many of the victories that Senator Murkowski just mentioned.
I always like to talk about the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which, of course, transformed America's fishing industry. Among others things, it created a 200-mile limit to keep foreign fishermen from plundering our fish and sustained our fisheries. It used to be just 3 miles. Now, we all know it is the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but, of course, Don Young moved it in the House with Congressman Gerry Studds of Massachusetts. So I used to like to say, in events with Don Young: Magnuson-Stevens, or maybe a better name would have been the ``Young-Studds Act,'' which, of course, he loved that idea. So I kind of liked calling it the ``Young-Studds Act.''
But here is the thing, the story that is such a great story that a lot of people don't know: The executive branch wasn't thrilled about this bill, wasn't thrilled about it at all, to such a degree that President Ford was considering vetoing it. Why? Because he had a really smart, clever Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who thought it would raise tensions with our allies--the Koreans and the Japanese in particular--who loved fishing off the coast of Alaska, taking our fish. Two hundred miles off, they were going to lose out. They were mad. So he was encouraging a veto.
Whether it was on the racquetball court, in the Halls of the Capitol, or a potlatch in rural Alaska, Don Young knew where to be to get things done for Alaska. And he knew that the President and Kissinger were heading to Asia, stopping over in Alaska. So Don and his two daughters and Lu got a ride on Air Force One. A few martinis later, Don Young, the new Congressman from Alaska, was debating one of the most brilliant men in America--the Secretary of State, former Harvard professor Dr. Henry Kissinger--on Air Force One in front of President Ford: Veto the Magnuson-Stevens Act or not.
Well, guess who won that debate: the Harvard professor or the tugboat captain? It was the tugboat captain. Now, Don jokingly credits the martinis, but we all know that he was the one who got that done. And, again, our State and our country's history wouldn't be the same. And, by the way, Henry Kissinger and Don Young were great friends ever since.
Mr. President, that is just one example of many, as Senator Murkowski mentioned. Don Young served with 10 Presidents, and he knew them all. President George H.W. Bush called him ``Moose.'' They played racquetball often. He had Dungeness crab flown in to eat with President George W. Bush.
He and President Clinton were at the White House together one night when the vote was called. They were having so much fun that President Clinton said: I don't want you to leave, Don.
Don said: Well, Mr. President, I will need a hall pass.
So he got a handwritten note from President Clinton, writing to the Speaker of the House: Dear Mr. Speaker. Please excuse Don Young from voting tonight. We are having cigars at the White House.
And when Don Young went to the White House to sign the ANWR legislation that we had been working on and that he had been working on for over 40 years and were able to pass--again, our small and mighty team working together, 2017, with President Trump--he turned to President Trump and said: So you are the other Don in this town.
So Don Young has been great friends with Presidents, world leaders, but what really motivated and moved him was helping people, especially Alaskans. It didn't matter their title, their political affiliation. He just wanted to help people.
He said: As long as you respect the other person and their beliefs, you can be successful. Whether in the majority or the minority, I try to work with people to solve problems. My job is to listen to what they want and how I can then help them get it done.
Like I said, commonsense, practical--no wonder so many Alaskans loved Don Young. And we all know he could tell a story, holding court.
As we know, in the House there isn't assigned seating, but there was one seat in the House that nobody sat in: Don Young's. And, by the way, if you did, you may be taking your life into your own hands.
He sat, and Members gathered around him, listening to his stories. The story of the oosik might come up, how he used that in debates, how he sat during a committee hearing with his fingers caught in a bear trap to make a point, and his legendary office Christmas parties. Young staffers and Members from all over the Congress stood in a long line that snaked into the hallway just to have a few minutes to hear him holding court.
But his true love was always Alaska. He could have done anything, been anything, but he chose to stay and work for the people up until the last moment of his life.
You can make all the money in the world. But if you aren't happy, it doesn't count for anything.
And Don Young was a happy man.
When we lost Don Young, we lost a piece of Alaska, a piece of ourselves, a piece of his indomitable, irascible spirit. But it will live on forever, and I know that he has an army of loyalists he has amassed through the years in the Gallery, in addition to family, his wonderful family.
Dozens of staffers are here to pay tribute. Some of them now work for my office. In fact, early on in my Senate career, I learned something very smart. I frequently stole Don Young's staff to come work for me: well-trained, smart. I still do it. And he never minded. As a matter of fact, he always said: I just want what is best for my people.
Larry Burton, Erik Elam, Chad Padgett, Liz Banicki, Scott Leathard--so many are still here with me. So many cut their teeth at Don Young's office. And like so many who know Don Young, they are intensely loyal to this great Alaskan.
His spirit will live on in the House of Representatives and the people's House, and his spirit will live on in everything he has done for our State and every Alaskan from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, to the Ketchikan shipping yard, to the many, many land exchanges, the health clinics dotting our State, the state-of-the-art Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
And his spirit will live in his wonderful family: Joni and Sister, his 13 grandchildren, Anne, and so many others. Don was a dear friend and mentor to me, to Senator Murkowski, to my wife Julie, and so many others. He was truly a man of the people, a great man of the people.
We miss you, Don. Rest in peace.
I yield the floor.
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