Congressman Don Young brought his unique blend of political incorrectness and conservative assessment of current affairs to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce yesterday and the packed house gathered to hear him speak was highly engaged with Alaska’s long-time lone member of the federal House of Representatives.
“After more than 40 years doing this, some say I am the old goat in the yard,” Young quipped regarding his 23 terms of office beginning in 1973. “But the best is yet to come. Under this news president, we are going to do great things for the State of Alaska.”
Young wasted no time listing several Obama Administration actions that he viewed as negative for Alaskan interests that he sees the current Congress removing.
That includes retaining control of waters within the state, control of fish management and control of lands – a huge issue for the state’s Native population as well as its hunters and outdoor recreationists.
Young repeatedly referenced the state’s constitution and the statehood act that guaranteed rights but were threatened by moves made by the Obama Administration.
Not anymore, he said.
“We have the opportunity to return a lot of capability in this state to develop resources,” Young said to a round of applause. “This is a resource-oriented state, but it cannot be just on resource. It cannot just be oil. I want to stress that. We all know what a potentially precarious position that puts us into depend on just one source of income – especially one so volatile.”
Young wants to see greater development of the state’s mineral resources and hydropower.
He made note of the current economic downturn, but immediately – within the same breath – directed thoughts to the state’s economic future.
“I am very optimistic about the future,” he said. “Some say we are in the doldrums now because supposedly we have a shortage of money. And there is a lot of debate down in Juneau now about this. But I hope you are optimistic about the future too. Keep this in mind: Old money does not solve our problems,” Young said in reference to the state’s previous reliance on oil income. “It only prolongs the agony. New money builds the future.”
In his role as the federal Legislature’s leading passer of bills signed into law by a sitting president, Young renewed his promise to fight for Alaska’s interests.
Asserting that 90 percent of the federal legislation he helped craft has impacted Alaska, Young told the crowd, “My job is to be your spokesperson.”
He then turned the microphone over to Dana Thorp Patterson, executive director of the chamber, for questions from the crowd.
Curtis McQueen, CEO of Eklunta, Inc., which is the local area’s largest landholder, was first up.
McQueen spoke of recently secured public recreational access to the Knik River Public Use Area – specifically to allow travel between the popular Jim Creek area and the Knik Glacier – brokered in an agreement among the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and Eklutna, Inc.
The agreement was announced in an April 19 press release from the state Dept. of Natural Resources documenting the agreement which conveys 31,000 acres to Eklutna from the BLM via the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
McQueen is aware of the dispute between the BLM and the State of Alaska regarding federal navigable waters, but said that Eklunta, Inc., opted to remain neutral regarding the issue in an effort to facilitate the agreement which now allows public access between Eklunta lands and state lands.
“Oh, I love that,” Young said with a broad smile.
Rich Young, co-owner of the Healthwise Physical Therapy in Eagle River, asked the Congressman about Medicaid and possible changes to payment to providers should Obamacare be repealed.
The Congressman referenced the recently-failed Congressional attempt to replace the controversial health care reform bill, but said that House leadership rushed the effort. He would like to see legislation requiring new health care laws by 2020 to give legislators time to create a program minus the flaws that plagued Obamacare.
“That bill (the recent failed federal legislation) would have hurt Alaska. Our premiums would go up,” the Congressman said. “I have offered a simple solution. We repeal Obamacare effective 2020 and we rewrite health care the right way. We give three years to write a correct bill.”
Nicholas Begich, III, owner of FarShore Partners – a global software technology firm based in Chugiak – asked Young regarding the rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rulings that have been tagged as impediments to development in Alaska.
The Congressman began his answer with his well-honed tactic for recognizing the irony that Begich is a Republican among a family of Democrats.
“His name is a little different, but he is a fine young man,” Young joked with another enormous smile. “I just want you all to know that. He is a Republican. Must make for some interesting family Thanksgiving dinners.”
Young continued by describing the EPA as a challenge. He asserted that the agency went far beyond its original intent as he described it as being charged with protecting the environment while still taking economic impact in consideration.
“They went well beyond their legislative authority by enforcing regulation on everybody in America that impeded economic growth,” Young said. “All of this regulation is killing our society economically. I see the tide turning on that under the Trump Administration. I am excited.”
Eva Loken, a long-time realtor and local resident, mentioned the Janke family’s effort to build a hydro-electric power plant on its private property bordering the upper Eagle River. The project took 45 years to be approved. She thought that was a timeline far too long. She would like to see such efforts by private property owners to take far less time.
“I think we should encourage people that have small hydro-electric potential to develop that,” she said.
The Congressman agrees, noting he has helped several similar projects located in the state’s Aleutian Islands.
Tonya Gamble, a local Rotarian also employed by Eklunta, Inc., asked the Congressman about potential changes in the federal tax code for individual taxpayers.
“We are going to have some type of reform bill regarding this,” Young said. “I cannot tell you at this time what it is going to be, but I have been a flat-taxer for years.”
He was also asked about reports that physicians affiliated with the federal Veterans Administration are guilty of over-prescribing.
“We are going to have to refine this so that veterans are properly taken care of,” Young said. “This drug issue – whether it is over-prescribing of medications or the pushing on the street of illegal drugs – is the biggest issue we have in this nation.”
True to his well-known unwillingness to remain politically correct, Young showed no trepidation in telling the audience at the Eagle River Alehouse that he wants dealers punished even more severely than currently being done.
He thinks the best way to get to dealers is through their pocketbooks and would like to see the Internal Revenue Service more empowered to go after drug money.
He also has no personal tolerance for drug dealing.
“This is not right for our society” he said. “But for some reason, we accept it. We have to say no more to this. I have lost two nephews to it. I have two grandkids that have become drug addicts. If I could catch their dealer, you are going to see me behind bars.”