The Slatest

Alaska Rep. Don Young, Dean of the House of Representatives, Dies at 88

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii hold a news conference on March 7, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii hold a news conference on March 7, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Don Young, the blunt-speaking lawmaker who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1973 and later became its longest-serving Republican, died Friday in Seattle while traveling home to Alaska. At 88, he was the oldest member of the House. Rep. Young, was reelected to a 25th term in November with around 55 percent of the vote.

Young reportedly lost consciousness while on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle and couldn’t be resuscitated. “It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Dean of the House and revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side,” his spokesperson, Zach Brown, said in a statement.

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Young was known for not mincing words and in his later years in office his gaffes and controversial remarks often overshadowed his work as a legislator. But he represented Alaska as the state’s sole representative in the House for so long that he was often referred to as the state’s third senator. Although he was born in California, where he grew up on a family farm, he moved to Alaska in 1959, the same year Alaska became a state. “I can’t stand heat, and I was working on a ranch and I used to dream of some place cold, and no snakes and no poison oak,” Young said in 2016.

In 2019, during his 24th term, Young became the longest-serving Republican in the history of the House of Representatives when he surpassed former speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon of Illinois. Although Young helped direct billions of dollars to his state during his tenure, by that time he had already lost much of his political power in part due to internal battles with Republican leaders amid corruption probes. Although he was investigated by the Justice Department several times, Young was never charged with wrongdoing.

Despite the scandals and inflammatory comments, Alaskans continued voting him into office and he rarely came close to losing. One marked exception was in 2008, when he won a GOP primary by a mere 304 votes. Young was already running for his 26th term and had fundraisers scheduled in Alaska next week. “We have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart—always,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said in a statement. “Don was coming home to the place that he loved, and to the people that loved him best.”

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