Taxidermy, presidential pictures, and bipartisanship: remembering Don Young

Published: Mar. 19, 2022 at 9:24 AM AKDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - There is now a hole in the Alaska congressional delegation after Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) died Friday at the age of 88. He walked the halls of Congress for nearly half a century, joining the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973. At the time of his passing, Young was the Dean of the House – the longest serving member in the House of Representatives.

A unique member of Congress, Young was known for his relationships across the aisle, his staunch advocacy for his state, and his infamous office. His walls were lined with dead animals, pictures with presidents, and a gigantic map to scale of his state that he would show other members of Congress. He would overlay maps of their states to expose the inevitably vast size difference.

The man who roamed the halls of Congress for just over 49 years had countless stories and the artifacts to bring them to life. When the news broke that Don Young passed away Friday, a piece of Congressional history died too.

“My goal is to speak for Alaskans that have a challenge or a problem with the federal government and try to improve the way they’re living,” Young told Gray Television’s Washington News Bureau in an interview in 2018.

Young was a sure vote for conservatives in the House and yet he preached unity and bringing lawmakers together. The Dean of the House longed for the old days when House members would hang out on weekends, getting to know each other and, in turn, getting things done together. Young recently spoke about how he and his colleagues united after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

“I was pretty proud of America, though, in the sense that we came together,” said Young.

Losing the longest serving member in the House leaves a gaping hole, not just in the Alaska delegation, but all of Congress. In the hours since the news of his passing, both sides of the aisle are honoring Young.

In a statement, Senator Lisa Murkowski said, “we have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart—always.” Senator Dan Sullivan added that he’d lost a friend and mentor. The leader of the House Republicans, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tweeted his condolences, adding that the loss of Young will “leave Congress less colorful & less punctual.”

President Biden and his wife, first lady, Jill Biden issued a statement sending their prayers, with the president observing that young was always tough, loyal and a consensus builder.

The late congressman said many times through the years, including during our last interview just three weeks ago, he would work with any lawmaker, any president, regardless of party so long as they were willing to work with him on his top priority: helping his home state of Alaska.

“I get along with most everybody. As long as you do it my way, you’re OK. No, I actually try to work with people,” said Young.

Young’s office says details on services for Young are still being worked out.

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