In the race for Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Don Young is running for reelection against the Democratic party nominee Alyse Galvin. Young spoke with the Clarion over the phone ahead of his election to talk about his campaign. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What would be your legislative priorities if you were to be reelected?
Young: My priority is to serve the people of Alaska, listen to what they’re interested in, where they have a problem, and see where I can solve it federally. I’ve been doing that for 48 years now. A lot of people don’t understand that when you hear a congressman or a candidate say ‘I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna do that’, they’re not being truthful. The reality is our job is to speak for the people and that’s what I’ve been able to do and be very successful in doing it.
What have you heard from the people as we approach the next session in terms of what you should prioritize?
Young: Well, right now what I’m hearing from the people is, very frankly, the effect of this pandemic on the economy of the country and the state of Alaska.
We’re trying to figure out how we help them get back on the road of economic viability so we can continue the greatness of this great nation of ours and not be one that’s retreating. And that’s going to be the challenge. I don’t have the total answer to it, I never have, but in the meantime we’ve also got to do what I’ve been able to do this last session.
We passed a bunch of bills that I’m a sponsor of, and in fact some of them are going to be signed into law, one of them was signed into law. We had the Save our Seas Act, that was very important.
We had the remote generator act, remember. That’s not your problem, but it was brought to my attention that all these remote villages had diesel generation, and because of regulations from the federal government they couldn’t meet the requirements without buying a brand-new diesel generator. They can’t afford it, so I got it so they could still burn diesel fuel in those old generators in the smaller areas.
Savannah’s Law, which is important. Also, I was prime sponsor of what they called the John Dingell Conservation Management and Recreation Act, which is called the biggest environmental bill in centuries, and it happens to be one that protects lands. I passed legislation to help with the progress for Indian tribes.
I can go on down the line, those ideas came from people in Alaska. All of them did.
Why hasn’t there been a second round of economic stimulus passed by Congress, and what do you think should be in the next stimulus package?
Young: I’m going to correct you: Why isn’t there a third one. We’ve had two of them. Why isn’t there another one? Because very frankly, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, wants the HEROES Act. And the HEROES Act has a lot of money in there that has nothing to do with the pandemic. This is not to be a catchall. This was only to be addressed to the results of government action relating to the pandemic. That’s not what it does.
Now the Senate has a good bill. I think we can support that bill. But so far, she won’t go anything less than $2.5 trillion, and that’s just not gonna happen.
What specifically is in the HEROES Act that you think is unnecessary?
Young: Well, one of them is the mileage deal. Emission control. Bailing out New York, California and I can go on down the line. Have you read the bill?
Not in its entirety, no.
Young: Well, you probably haven’t read it, but if you read it, there’s a lot of money that has nothing to do with the pandemic.
What do you think the money should be spent on when it comes to helping Alaskans through the pandemic?
Young: The loss of jobs, the effect upon the economy, the small businesses primarily, that’s where it should be directed. We did that in the first CARES bill and I’d like to do it in the second bill, but there should be no additions.
Moving on to health care. Do you have a plan to reduce health care costs for Alaskans?
Young: Everybody asks that question, but you know I’ve lived a long time and I’ve seen health care actually that’s better now than it’s ever been.
Is it expensive? Yes.
Some of it is regulations in the health care field itself; some is distance like when you build a house in Alaska it costs you more money. And some of it, very frankly, I believe, is we have a system where drugs are taken advantage of. Drug companies are being not very realistic, and it will hurt them eventually. We will end up mass bidding on drugs like we do in Medicaid and the Veterans (Administration).
No one has a quick solution. I’ve always said you can’t repeal Obamacare, but you’ve got to improve on it. It hurts me when people say, ‘OK, how are you gonna solve it?’ They don’t have an answer to it. Frankly, I don’t think anybody else has an answer to it now. Let’s look at what we’ve got and where does it specifically need to be improved upon.
When it comes to the oil and gas industry, do you think Alaskans can continue to rely on this industry as a main source of revenue in the future, given the tumultuous year we had in terms of oil prices and economic stability?
Young: Two things are happening here. One is, I don’t think you should rely on any one industry, any one resource.
We’re seeing this in Seattle with Boeing. They’re moving out and it’s going to hammer that area real hard.
I don’t think we should be dependent only on oil because we have no control over the price. And when you don’t have control over the price of the product that’s being produced in your state, you’re going to get hurt. This is not new. I believe it was 1988 when oil went to $8 a barrel. I heard people then wringing their hands saying ‘what are we going to do, what are we going to do?’
Well, they stopped wringing their hands when oil went up to $140 a barrel, but we have no control over it. We’re getting hit now because of the surplus of oil in the Lower 48. We’re actually (energy) independent now, and we have to realize we can’t depend on oil just for the supply of dollars. We ought to use the money we get for diversification. We ought to be building power sites — hydropower, geothermal power — so we can develop our other resources, which would stabilize our budget. And those resources will provide great jobs, and doing so will have a balanced budget. But right now, when you depend on one source of income, you can’t do it.
So do you think we should be prioritizing renewable energy production, and is there anything the federal government can do to incentivize that?
Young: Renewable, to me, is hydro. We’re working on that, and my job is to try to get FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) involved so they don’t delay it through permitting. We’ve studied a lot of these projects, and we’ve got some new ones going on right now, but we need a lot more.
Another renewable is geothermal, which I’m a big supporter of. We’re working on that more so than wind power and sun power. That’s sort of the thing for the environmental community, but in reality, until you can develop a battery that can store for many, many hours, you’re not going to make it viable enough to add value to resources.
What are your current thoughts on the Pebble Mine project, given the recent revelations around that company’s influence on other politicians and the permitting process?
Young: My position has not changed. I wish people would understand one thing, probably you don’t, but you should think about it, is state land. The state chose the land, the state put it up for discovery, and under the discovery clause you have a right to development if the permits can be issued. But the state should make those decisions, not the federal government.
We have now the federal government not allowing, and in fact taking, and when you do that you should be reimbursed for it. If people say it shouldn’t be developed and they want to stop it then they should pay the state or let the state choose equal-value land. But what they’re doing is taking away part of the 103 million acres of land we chose, and when everybody gets involved, Trout Unlimited and the EPA and the Corps of Engineers, and everybody involved is saying ‘no’, then, very frankly, they’re taking valued land from the people of Alaska.
So are you saying that the State of Alaska should be making the decision around Pebble Mine, not the federal government?
Young: That is what statehood is about. If you believe in federal government control, then you support the idea of no Pebble.
We’re seeing COVID cases rise in the state and around the country. Are you satisfied with the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is there anything else the federal government should be doing?
Young: I believe it’s been well done, contrary to what people say. I’m not happy with the economic impact upon the people of this nation. It’s not new. We’ve had pandemics before, but this is what we’ve decided to do and I guess we have to follow the process. But we have to start thinking about all these do-good, feel-good programs. They cannot be financed if we lose the economy of this great state.
What do you mean by “Do-good, feel-good programs?”
Young: All the social programs. They all may be worthwhile, but if you don’t have the money then they can’t function.
Can you expand on that?
Young: Did you get taught economics in high school, college?
We all did, sir.
Young: You got taught economics?
Young: OK now, if you were taught economics, what do you have to do to make programs work?
What do you mean?
Young: Where do you get the money?
Well it depends on if you’re a government entity or a private corporation.
Young: No no, where do you get the money? There’s only one source of true wealth, what’s it from?
You go ahead and tell me, Congressman.
Young: It’s from resources. That’s the only true wealth, be it agriculture, be it minerals, be it oil, be it timber, that’s the only true wealth. From that springs all other wealth, and when you don’t do that, you don’t have any economy.
So to that end, are you saying we should be harvesting more of our resources to save our economy?
Young: Absolutely. You have to have the development of it, or you don’t have anything. None of these jobs. Your job doesn’t produce anything. Doesn’t produce a darn thing. What’s it produce? Words?
Young: But can you live on information? You can’t. You know it.
Thanks Congressman, I appreciate that. For my last question, do you think the integrity of the upcoming election has been threatened?
Young: That I don’t know. A lot of comments have been made about it. I’m following the rules, everybody else should be following the rules, and if there are issues with integrity it’ll probably be in some of the larger areas like New York and San Francisco and those areas, but you know, I don’t know. Until somebody sees something happen and knows it’s a reality, I’m not going to get too excited about integrity. I think it’s been pretty good so far.
Will you accept the results of the election after all the votes have been counted?
Young: I will accept the results. This is my 25th election, and I’ve accepted them every time.
Is there anything else you want to add about your campaign?
Young: The campaign is going well, and I think Alaskans will see the wisdom of somebody who has knowledge, knows the state upwards and downwards and crossways, understands the needs and developments and listens to the people and passes legislation that affect people in Alaska, not nationally.
Thank you for your time, despite my having a useless position here in the economy.
Young: Hey, mine’s not much better, I’ll be the first one to tell you that. What do I produce other than trying to solve laws for people?
Well you write the laws. That’s kind of an important job.
Young: But I mean, can you eat it, can you wear it, does it keep you warm? What’s it do?
Well yes, laws do keep you warm and fed and protected.
Young: Well, good luck. I’ll see you later.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.