Player of the Week: Don Young
In his 35 years as Alaska's sole House member, Don Young (R) has never been shy about talking back to his critics -- and he's had quite a few.
When he was asked in 2005 about calls to redirect money for Alaska bridge projects to Hurricane Katrina victims, Young said, "They can kiss my ear!" Environmentalists? Young once said they're a "self-centered bunch of waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual idiots" who "are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans."
In 2003, when Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) led the opposition to Young's proposal to increase gasoline taxes, the Alaskan allegedly yelled at her on the House floor and threatened to take away Colorado's highway projects. In 2007, Young approvingly cited a (fake) Abraham Lincoln quote that members of Congress who undermine the military "should be arrested, exiled, or hanged." That same year, he warned members who were trying to redirect education funds from Alaska: "Those who bite me will be bitten back."
(Young also once waved around the 18-inch penis bone of a walrus on the House floor, though it doesn't appear he was actually threatening anyone with it.)
You get the picture. Yet despite an unending string of controversies during his House tenure, Young has always sailed to reelection with the support of Alaskans grateful for his Herculean ability to bring federal money home. But events in recent months, especially in the last week, suggest Young's power may finally be slipping from his bearish grasp.
On Thursday, the Senate took the highly unusual step of asking the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of a $10 million dollar earmark for a Florida highway interchange, one that Young requested and whose language was changed by his staff after the bill passed. The revised language would benefit developers who made hefty campaign donations to Young, though he has denied that the contributions and the earmark were linked. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) both this week encouraged a separate investigation of the earmark by the House ethics committee.
Young already faces a separate federal probe into his ties to the Alaska oil services company Veco Corp. Reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission show that he paid more than $250,000 in legal fees in the first quarter of this year, bringing his total lawyers' tab to $1.1 million since the start of 2007.
Back in Alaska, Young faces a serious challenge in the GOP primary from two opponents, most notably Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. If Young gets through the primary, a strong Democratic contender, ex-state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, awaits him in November. In a sign of just how far the once invulnerable Young has fallen, Democrats are hoping the incumbent actually wins his primary, because they think he'll be easier to beat than Parnell. And many Republicans privately agree with that assessment of the race and would rather have Parnell as their nominee.
Young has always had enemies among his fellow House Republicans. His brusque, sometimes dismissive style has irked colleagues, while his love of pork long ago alienated conservatives. With one federal probe underway, another potentially on the horizon and electoral challenges from both the right and left, Young could well be out of office -- one way or another -- by next January. Just don't expect him to go quietly.
April 18, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories: 2008 Campaign , Ethics and Rules , Player of the Week
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