Mar 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Alaska Rep. Don Young, longest-serving member of Congress, dies at 88

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), dean of the House, addresses House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Jan. 3, 2021.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), dean of the House, addresses House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the opening day of the 117th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 3, 2021. Photo: Bill O'Leary/Pool/AFP

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving member of Congress in either party, has died, according to staffers and his family. He was 88.

Driving the news: “It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young, 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," Young's office said in a statement. "His beloved wife, Anne, was by his side."

Young was first elected to the House in 1973 during the Nixon administration.

  • He was re-elected in 2020 to serve his 25th term.

Young, who was born on June 9, 1933, in Meridian, California, lived in Fort Yukon, Alaska, a rural village near the Arctic Circle.

  • Young worked as a construction worker, fisherman, trapper, tugboat captain and state legislator before being elected to Congress.
  • "Young’s legacy as a fighter for the state will live on, as will his fundamental goodness and his honor," his office added. "We will miss him dearly. His family, his staff, and his many friends ask Alaskans for their prayers during this difficult time."
  • Young was known for his independent streak, including most recently breaking with most of his party in voting for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and, in the aftermath, saying former President Donald Trump should "shut up."
  • He also had a well-earned reputation on the Hill as a bombastic lawmaker, famously once pulling a knife on the speaker of the House.
  • Young also made headlines in 2014 when the House Ethics Committee reproached and fined him $60,000 for accepting improper gifts and trips, as well as misuse of campaign funds.

What they're saying: "There is no doubt that few legislators have left a greater mark on their state. Don’s legacy lives on in the infrastructure projects he delighted in steering across Alaska," President Biden said in a statement on Saturday.

  • "In the opportunities he advanced for his constituents, in the enhanced protections for Native tribes he championed, his legacy will continue in the America he loved," Biden said.
  • "His fiercely independent voice for Alaska and one-of-a-kind wit and character will be missed. Rest in peace, Don," Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said on Friday.
  • "There was no one like Don Young, he was one of a kind. He lived in Alaska from just about the moment it became a state, the only member of Congress I know of with a mariner’s license," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).
  • "The last time we spoke, Don vented his still-strong frustration with President Truman for lowering the draft age from 21 to 18 mere weeks after his 18th birthday, causing Don to get promptly called up to fight in Korea," tweeted Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), "Absolute legend."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from President Biden.

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