U.S. Rep. Don Young, the Alaska Republican who served as that state’s only congressman for nearly half a century, died unexpectedly Friday, 18 March, 2022. He was 88.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, Young fell unconscious while on a flight heading back to Alaska and could not be revived.
“We have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart – always,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement. “Don was coming home to the place that he loved, and to the people that loved him best. We love you, Don.”
Born in California on 9 June, 1933, Young moved to Alaska in 1959 – the same year it became a state. He would work as a teacher, construction worker, tugboat captain, and a commercial fisherman.
He entered politics a few years later, first as mayor of Fort Yukon, a tiny outpost roughly 140 miles from Fairbanks. Young later served in the Alaska House and Senate before winning a special election in March 1973 to succeed Nick Begich, who had disappeared while flying in the state six months earlier.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) called Young a “friend and mentor” and credited him for shaping “the Alaska that we know and love today,” in a statement.
“His spirit – authentic, tenacious, indomitable, a man of the people – epitomized our great state to such a degree that there was a sense he’d always be with us, that he’d live forever,” Sullivan said.
As the lone congressman for the country’s largest seafood-producing state by volume, Young wielded tremendous influence over federal seafood policy and legislation. That included the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the first federal fisheries management law – which he co-authored – that was passed in 1976. The bill has since been reauthorized twice, the most recent update in 2006.
National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly in a statement said Young was known for his “colorful” remarks, but no one ever doubted his passion. That included the seafood industry, as Young also was “a champion of Alaska fisheries” and a “stalwart supporter and defender” of the federal law.
“His commitment to fisheries management was acclaimed far from just the bountiful waters of the state he represented,” Connelly said.
A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) told SeafoodSource on Monday, 21 March, that Huffman, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee’s Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Committee, met with Young just a few days before his death to discuss a proposed reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Huffman called the “crusty, conservative” Young a friend whose death leaves a “big hole in the institution of Congress,” in a statement he posted on Facebook on Saturday. Huffman also posted a picture of the two men together on a boat.
“Don was bigger than life: a political legend who served with 10 presidents, he did everything his own iconic way, deeply loved Alaska and was just plain fun to be around,” Huffman said. “We could have some big argument, and then laugh it off and go fishing together without any problem… I met with him for an hour just a few days ago and we had the usual jousting on some policy issues before settling into areas of agreement on a big fisheries bill. I'll miss him a lot, and I'm honored that I got to serve with him for the past 10 years.”
Young’s replacement will now come from a series of special elections that Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy will need to schedule. Alaska Public Media reported that primaries could be scheduled for either May or June, with a special general election to fill the seat potentially on 16 August, the day of the state’s normal primary.
Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Rep. Don Young