Don Young makes stop in Soldotna

The presidential candidates are set and the Republican Party has made an endorsement, but Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) won’t tell anyone who to vote for.

“I don’t really care who is elected right now as long as it’s not (Democratic presidential nominee) Hillary (Clinton),” Young said. “I’ll put my name into it.”

Young, who visited Soldotna Tuesday to speak to the joint Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce, said he is “not a fond supporter” of Republican nominee Donald Trump, but he opposed Clinton on grounds of lying while in office as well as supporting bigger government. He joked about running a write-in campaign, but said he was happy with his job and wanted to keep doing it.

Alaska’s lone congressman since 1973, Young is running for re-election in the primary Aug. 16 against three Republican challengers, with two candidates running on the Libertarian ticket and three running on the Democratic ticket, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Young asked for support at the chamber luncheon, criticizing the ideas of his most vocal opponent, Anchorage Democrat Steve Lindbeck.

Young gave a brief update about the outlook for Congress this coming year, starting with work to repeal or reform the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. He said he did not think it likely that much work would get done on it this year, as it is an election year, but next year might bring some improvements.

The Affordable Care Act has been a bone of contention between the Congress and President Barack Obama since its passage in 2010. Young said he opposed the number of additional regulations added to the health care industry in the bill and said the administration had lied to the public because health care premiums have dramatically increased in price rather than become more affordable.

“We will improve on it — that’s really the challenge we have,” Young said. “It’s impossible to do when this president is in office because it was his baby … he would not try to improve anything on it.”

Several questions from the audience focused on other health topics, including drug addiction. Young said he wanted to introduce a bill to toughen punishments for drug dealers. It is not yet formally a bill, but he informally called it “the D and D bill — deal and you’re dead.”

Approximately 21.5 million Americans age 12 or older had a substance abuse disorder in 2014. Of those, 1.9 million had an addiction involving prescription pain relievers, and 586,000 had a substance abuse disorder involving heroin, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Between 2009 and 2015, 774 people died of drug overdose in Alaska. Though prescription pain relievers remain one of the most abused drugs statewide, the number of heroin overdose deaths has been steadily increasing since 2010, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Young said punishing the addicts does not do any good — instead, the law should cut off the supply at the dealers.

“It’s the person that makes mercenary profits, that’s committing murder, and we know who they are, but we don’t prosecute them as we should,” Young said. “And the dealer very rarely gets caught … the dealer has to be stopped.”

An advocate for energy independence, Young said he wanted to see action on the Alaska LNG Project, a megaproject designed to bring the natural gas on the North Slope to market jointly funded by the state, ConocoPhillips, BP and ExxonMobil. Young said fossil fuels are still the most efficient way to transport goods and should continue to be developed, albeit with efficiencies.

To that end, Young said he supports resource development because it brings new wealth to the economy.

“You can’t solve any problems by taking grain from the granary without planting grain to put some new grain in the granary,” Young said.

Regardless of who becomes the next president, Young said one of the points he pushes Congress on is to take more authority over the president’s actions. Obama has issued executive orders inappropriately, Young said, and Congress should not fund the president’s programs because the debt is growing too large.

Young said Lindbeck’s assertion that he has been in office for too long are out of place.

“He’ll tell you I’m too damn old. I don’t think so — I think he’s too old,” Young said. “He’s 63 years old. I’m 83. He’s younger than I am. By the time he gets to my age, he’ll be dead.”

Lindbeck, a former director of Alaska Public Media and editor at the Anchorage Times and the Anchorage Daily News, has criticized Young for accepting donations from Edison Chouest Offshore, a Louisiana-based shipbuilding company, that has taken contracts in the state. The company was also found to be at fault in the wreck of the Kulluk, a drill barge ran ashore near Kodiak Island in 2012. Of the $657,281 in campaign contributions Young has taken in since Jan. 1, 2015, $23,100 came from executives of Edison Chouest Offshore, with another $5,200 coming from a Chouest family member.

Lindbeck has raised approximately $418,771 so far, a large portion of it through an online campaign fundraising conduit called ActBlue. All of it was raised in the last quarter, which began April 1 and ended June 30. Within that time Lindbeck outpaced Young’s gathering of $168,061, though Young had more than $488,000 in cash on hand to begin with.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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