(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

  • Friday, November 12, 2021 12:31pm
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was one of 13 House Republicans who supported bipartisan infrastructure bill when the House passed it last week.

“I will be honest” he said in his long explanatory news release, “when I take a look at some of our roads, bridges, and ports, I do not like what I see.”

Six House Democrats opposed it. But thanks to Young and the other 12, President Joe Biden came away with a hard-earned political victory. That didn’t please House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. And it enraged the extreme fringe elements in their party.

This was the second time in a year that Young’s honest appeal to bipartisanship wasn’t appreciated by House Republicans. Right before he administered the oath of office to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. in January, he calmly pleaded for all members to treat those across partisan aisle with civility and respect. “I love this institution” he began. “I will be honest. I do not like what I see. It’s time we hold hands and talk to one another.”

That earned him a standing ovation from the Democrats. McCarthy, who remained seated like most Republicans, responded with little more than polite applause. The only time he’s ever showed he understood Young’s message was during the impeachment hearings a week later.

“After all the violence and chaos of the last week, it is important to remember that we’re still here to deliver a better future for all Americans,” McCarthy said. “It does not matter if you are liberal, moderate, or conservative. All of us must resist the temptation of further polarization.”

He went on to acknowledge Biden “won the election, and the presidency in this Congress will face immediate challenges that must be addressed. I stand ready to assist in that effort with good faith, goodwill and an open hand.”

That’s what Young believed he was doing by supporting the infrastructure bill.

“Our country is an economic powerhouse in no small part due to our historical support for infrastructure and other surface transportation projects” he said. Inaction “risks our nation’s fundamental economic independence and strength.”

McCarthy thought it would be “reckless, irresponsible spending” and asked his members to vote against it. Their principled disagreement isn’t the problem though. McCarthy’s silence following the irrational, polarizing attacks of Young and the others is anything but a sign of goodwill.

“I can’t believe Republicans just gave the Democrats their socialism bill,” Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., wrote.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, called it “a Trojan horse for Democrats’ radical proposals to fundamentally transform America.” And everyone who voted for it “lied to the American people.”

The lamest remarks came from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Before the vote she said any Republican who supported would be “a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” After it, the “traitors locked arms with Nancy Pelosi to pass Joe Biden’s communist takeover of America.”

Young shouldn’t have to defend his Republican credentials. But his nine-paragraph press release explaining his vote seems intended for that purpose. It’s much more detailed than the single paragraph he put out for The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, the biggest piece of legislation passed the last year Republicans controlled the House. Only one sentence referenced tax reform. The last three dealt with opening ANWR.

It’s different now, as Jim Swift of The Bulwark notes. We “live in a world where crazy Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has committee assignments and Don Young (R-AK), the longest serving Republican… 48 years!… is gonna pay a price.”

But thinking Young is capable of standing his ground, he added “I’m not sure I’d want to cross him.”

More than a decade ago, Swift was Republican staffer in the House. Things were much more civil then. A member who shared a video of his face on a cartoon character killing a Democratic congresswoman and attacking the president with swords would have been expelled from Congress

But McCarthy looked the other way when Gosar did just that this week.

That’s what make this story so pathetically sad. No longer the fighting congressman Swift might have been remembering, Young seems afraid to demand that his impotent party leader defend the dignity of the institution he claims to love.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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