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Anchorage Press - The House Contenders: Don

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Anchorage Press - The House Contenders: Don

With the November 4 election swiftly approaching, the Press is presenting our readers with the Senate and House candidates' policy views and plans for the future, should they be elected (our Senate profiles ran last week, you can read them here). These articles are meant to articulate what each candidate's political agenda is, and are not meant to be recaps of investigations, allegations, indictments, trials, nor as the Press's editorial opinion of any candidate.

In both the Senate and House races, the electorate is presented with uniquely Alaskan politicians; their views do not hew precisely to that of their national parties. Among other anomalies, neither of the Republican incumbents—Senator Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young—pushes their party's hard-right views on social issues, and both of the Democratic challengers—Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich and former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz—are fiscally conservative compared to their Democratic compatriots in other parts of the country, and both want to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for petroleum production. The differences between our Alaskan Rs and Ds are in the details.

Alaskans have a reputation for voting for the candidate rather than the party; according to recent Division of Elections statistics, only 41 percent of registered voters in Alaska are registered Republicans or Democrats. It's our hope that the information in these articles will prove useful to voters when they enter the voting booth and choose between candidates who represent Alaska's history, and those who hope to begin writing some of that history themselves.
—The Editors

Don
By Brendan Joel Kelley

"I'm one of the nicest, kindest persons in the world, but when you mess with the state you're messing with me," Alaska Congressman Don Young told an audience at a recent debate about resources with his challenger, Democrat Ethan Berkowitz.

Young has held his office in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1973, when he won a special election to replace Democrat Nick Begich, who disappeared in a small plane in late 1972 but was reelected nonetheless. During that 35 years Young's developed a reputation for tempestuous outbursts and fiery rhetoric, a facet of his political skill set that his opponent is critical of. But Young makes no apologies for his style when it comes to fighting for what he believes is right for Alaska, and points to his recent no vote on the economic bailout plan as proof that he stands by his principles.

"I'm not one that believes government can solve everything," he says shortly after the debate. "I think we mess things up when we get involved. That may be old fashioned, that may be out of time, but we got in this mess because of the government. We put you in this mess, how can we come in and solve that problem for you? I think we exacerbate the problem."

Young is glad that the amount of bank deposits covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was raised from $100,000 to $250,000, but not so with the federal takeover of mortgage institutions Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the bailout of insurance giant American International Group. "Now to buy and sell and be involved in mortgages and real estate—what makes people think that's the way to go?" Young asks. "I think that was the dead wrong way to go, especially when there was no oversight."

He also criticizes the lending policies that led up to the mortgage crisis. "Everybody had the idea that everybody had to have a house. Sounds good, but when you can't pay for that house, you shouldn't have that house. The dream is that you can save enough money to get into a house at some time, but right now a newly married couple under this present program could've gone in and got a house, never had a nickel, never had a job, and that's wrong."

When it comes to money though, Young has never apologized for what he brings back to Alaska in the form of earmarks in the federal budget, something he's been criticized for by Governor Palin, now running for vice president on the Republican ticket. Back in March, at the state Republican convention, Young told the attendees, "How many in this room are in a community that's asking for earmarks? Raise your hand. Raise your hands! Be truthful: Raise your hands! Everybody! Those earmarks are for you and your communities."

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has promised to crack down on earmarks, but at a debate with Berkowitz earlier this month Young declared, "I look forward to sending John McCain the first package of earmarks for Alaska, and I dare him to veto it."

Young is under investigation by the FBI for possible corruption charges involving VECO, and Governor Palin was openly critical of his spending more than a million dollars of his campaign money on legal fees, saying in February that Alaskans deserve answers on how his campaign contributions were being spent. Despite their differences, Young says he would work with a McCain/Palin administration. "I'd have to work with them, I'll work with anybody," he says, pointing out that the next president will be the eighth since he's been in Congress.

"I frankly have to remind people, there are three branches of government—judicial, executive, then the branch of the people: That's legislative. We should have more guts to tell the administration this is the position of the house of the people. This is the position of the legislative part of the people; if you don't like it, veto it. The public now is saying ‘the president this, the president that,' he shouldn't have that kind of power and he doesn't have that kind of power as long as we enforce our power."

Young's opponent, Berkowitz, is a moderate Democrat compared to most of his peers in the Lower 48. He supports for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for instance, something that Young has hammered away at in the House, passing bills to open ANWR ten times in the last 15 years.

"The policy differences between Ethan more than anything else is simple," Young says. "He's pro-choice; I'm pro-life. He's pro-tax; I'm against taxes. Beyond that we have some differences of opinion about the energy and how it should be solved. I've always been a moderate. I'm considered as a conservative because I'm pro-life, because I believe in carrying that gun. But unions support me, the native populations support me, I'm supportive of schools and education, I'm supportive of good health care, I could go down the line. So I'm sort of in the middle. So there isn't that much difference [between Berkowitz and I], but he believes with his party that taxes are part of the solution. More government infusion of money, and government interference with the free market, and that's what his policy is, and he has a right to do that, I'm just saying that it's not my policy."

Young introduced a bill this year—with more than 180 cosponsors—to open ANWR and use the revenue from leases to build alternative energy projects. "I think that is a key to the solution to the economic problem," he says. "We didn't get in this problem until people couldn't afford heating oil or gasoline because it took such a big chunk of their paycheck that they couldn't make their mortgage payment, and it started that spiraling down effect. So that's gonna be my main goal on a national level, and for the state too."

Military expansion in Alaska will be an ongoing project as well, Young says. He cites Air Force General Billy Mitchell's 1935 statement to Congress that "I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world."

"I think people are seeing that, in fact, I know they're seeing it," Young says. "That's why you have more F-22s in Anchorage than any place in the United States. This is the area that we're going to have forever for the disbursement of aircraft and the training phase. I look for that as still being one of the driving economic forces for the whole state."

But Young says that his familiarity and experience with the House count in his favor as well as his policy goals. "People don't understand the job of a congressman—not all the good things that you're interested in and all the good things these people in this room are interested in, you've got all those ‘every year' occurrences," he says. "I've gotta make sure the Coast Guard's funded, that comes up every year. I have to make sure the agencies we're directly dealing with—that [the Bureau of Land Management] has the money for surveying state lands.

"And keep in mind," he says, "we're the spokesmen for the people, and there'll be numerous problems come up in the next two years and you have to be ready to respond and know how to go to the right members to solve those problems. You never know what's going to come up. It could be like this [economic] crisis, you do what you have to do then."

That's what Young is hoping Alaskans will remember when they go to the polls on November 4—that he knows how to do the job for Alaska and will continue on the course that voters expect from him.

"We're running real hard and expect to be elected," he says. "We'll see what happens. I'll go back to Washington D.C. and do the job for Alaskans that I've done in the past—I'll do it in the future and do it better."


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