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Remembering Alaska Rep. Don Young

His attacker: late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska).

“He held that blade to my throat, yelling at me,” recalls Boehner, who says he managed to rebuke the Alaskan lawmaker with a short curse. “One of the proudest moments of my career.”

As the story has been told over the years, Young deemed it “essentially true” and claimed that the blade of the knife was not open, but it matched the personality he cultivated until his death. died on March 18 at the age of 88. at the United States Capitol on Tuesday.

Fiery and headstrong — the walls of his office covered in mounted animal trophies and a 10-foot grizzly bear skin — Young was a former riverboat captain willing to do anything to send money to Alaska. Boehner’s sin that day in the House was to attack the pork-barrel spending that secured Young’s job as Alaska’s only congressman for 49 years, making him the strongest Republican. elder in House history – despite his threats of violence, offensive comments and a corruption probe.

I got to know Young during my 13 years as a reporter for Alaskan public radio stations, four of them as the Washington DC correspondent for the Alaska Public Radio Network. He routinely kicked me out of his office for asking a question he didn’t like, quoting a critic, or investigating one of his spending bills. He was screaming and towering over me, or even worse, staring silently at me until he growled, “Get out.

When I got tickets to a congressional dinner hosted by the Washington Press Club in 2010, I invited Young, never thinking he would say yes. A staff member called to say the congressman would indeed be in attendance and it would be his first big outing since losing his beloved wife of 46 years, Lu.

Usually at these dinners people mingle and work in the room, but I realized that Young had to be by my side for the night. Looking for an icebreaker, I asked if he really carried a knife everywhere, including at a formal dinner.

“That’s right,” he shouted, and pulled out a closed-blade knife.

“You can disable a man like this,” he said, and used my robed back to teach me where to hit an attacker with just the handle of the knife, a defensive skill, he said. – he says, that every woman should know. I remember the wide eyes of the people near us in the crowded ballroom. That night Young told me stories of his early days on the Yukon River and meeting his wife, an Athabascan Gwich’in who was at first uninterested in the arrogant newcomer to Alaska. Then Young held my hand and cried as he shared how happy he was the day Lu agreed to marry him.

As we spoke, a line of politicians and lobbyists gathered to shake his hand and say, “Hello, Mr. President.” At that time, the title was merely honorary because Young had been stripped of his valuable and powerful committee leadership by Chairman Boehner. Young was under the cloud of a corruption investigation, and despite our reporting detailing a $10 million earmarking to benefit a campaign contributor and a possible reprimand from the House Ethics Committee for accepting trips and gifts, Alaskans kept sending him back to Washington.

It was an unmatched re-election record that mystified many – except those who voted for him again and again. He plagued a Who’s Who of Alaskan Democrats and even Republican challengers.

It didn’t matter what he said or how he said it: he told me that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was not a natural disaster but that nature was taking its course. He joked that a pair of black eyes, the byproduct of minor surgery, came from a fight with a “commie greenie”. A staunch opponent of gun control, Young told me after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) was shot while meeting with voters in 2011 that he would carry a gun at events. similar, “making everything happen to me.” He suggested that Jews could have survived the Holocaust if they had been armed.He told lawmakers who wanted to protect the gray wolf that he would like to introduce wolves to their district and solve their homelessness problems. He struggled to backtrack after offhand racial and homophobic slurs.

And just as spring thaw follows winter, Alaskans would re-elect Young.

What sets Young apart from today’s anger and divisiveness is his cunning in working across party lines and countering Republican leaders, including former President Donald Trump, if he felt it would benefit Alaskans or was the right thing to do, like being the only Republican to vote for a 2019 bill increasing humanitarian standards in border detention centers. Young could go from shoving you around — in my case, literally — to bringing you in for a bear hug.

“Don Young worked with people on both sides of the aisle and he respected people on both sides of the aisle,” Boehner said.

Before his death, Young lamented the loss of days gone by when committee chairs held power and shared it with members regardless of party, with Democrats and Republicans meeting in the president’s office at 5 p.m. to craft a law Project.

“Take a little hit of bourbon and water, maybe a few hits, and on the third hit we’ll fix it,” he told former Congressman Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis .) on his Plaidcast podcast in 2018.

In a twist, Boehner said he couldn’t have imagined when he was pressed against the House bedroom wall he ended up being Young’s witness when Young remarried in 2015 on Capitol Hill in the age of 82.

“He was as different as they came,” Boehner said, “but a good solid member who did a terrific job on behalf of Alaska.”

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