Taking Back the House, Vol. 6: Don Young and Alaska’s At-Large District


This is the sixth edition of a research project at PoliticusUSA known as Taking Back the House. You can check out the previous edition here. The purpose of this project is to analyze each Republican Congressional district in the United States and see how likely the district can go ‘Blue.’ To do this, I will take a look at the overall demographics of the district, as well as review the historical voting patterns and the record of the Congressperson representing the district. This series will run until we’ve looked at every single district in the country, which should take us right into the 2014 campaign season.


Congressional District: Alaska At-Large


U.S. Representative: Don Young


Population: 722,718


Median Household Income: $67,825 (National Average: $51,017)


Unemployment Rate: 8.8% (National Rate: 7.2%)


Gender: 48.4% Female, 51.6% Male (National Percentages: 50.8% Female, 49.2% Male)


Age: 8.1% 65 and over (National Percentage: 12.8%)


Race: 66.8% White, 3.2% Black, 5.3% Asian, 14.3% American Indian (National Percentages: 72.4% White, 12.6% Black, 4.8% Asian, 0.9% American Indian)


Ethnicity: 94.2% Non-Hispanic, 5.8% Hispanic (National Percentages: 83.6% Non-Hispanic, 16.4% Hispanic)


Urban/Rural Population Split: 66% Urban, 34% Rural (National Split: 82% Urban, 18% Rural)


District Voting Patterns: Alaska is one of a handful of states that, due to low population, has only one U.S. Representative. Therefore, the entire state is a Congressional district. And the state has been represented in the House since 1973 by one man, Don Young. While, for the most part, Young has easily won reelection by a handy margin, he did deal with a tough race in 2008. He was presented with a strong primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and barely secured the nomination. He also had to deal with a tough general election, as he defeated Democrat Ethan Berkowitz by 5 points.


That same year, Democrat Mark Begich defeated long-serving Republican Senator Ted Stevens. Both Stevens and Young were seen as corrupt members of Congress, as they specialized in ‘earmarks’ and securing pork at any and every opportunity. While Stevens was unable to get past the allegations in his campaign, Young survived and has since easily won reelection twice. In 2010, he easily defeated Democrat Harry T. Crawford, Jr. by nearly 40 points. 2012’s election was hardly any closer, as Sharon Cissna was defeated by a 64-39 margin.


Alaska has one Repubican Senator, Lisa Murkowski, to go along with Begich. In regards to Presidential elections, Alaska went for Mitt Romney in 2012 by 14 points. John McCain carried the state in 2008, 60-38. Of course, then-Governor Sarah Palin was on the ticket as McCain’s running mate.

Congressional Activity by Young: As stated before, Young is well-known for securing funds for his state and getting as many handouts as possible. CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has repeatedly named him one of the most corrupt members of Congress, and he is on 2013’s list. He also is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for improper use of campaign funds.


Young currently serves on two committees, the Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He is Chair of the Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Per OpenCongress, Young votes with his party 90% of the time. He also has a habit of abstaining from votes, as he abstains 12% of the time. He voted to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government on October 16th. Overall, he is considered a moderate Republican, as National Journal ranked him the 222nd most conservative member of Congress in 2012, and 200th in 2011.


Notable Quotes by Young:


“This is not an environmental disaster, and I will say that again and again because it is a national phenomena. Oil has seeped into this ocean for centuries, will continue to do it. During World War II there was over 10 million barrels of oil spilt from ships, and no natural catastrophe.  We will lose some birds, we will lose some fixed sealife, but overall it will recover.” – Comments made in June 2010 in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 or 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.” – Comments made to an Alaskan radio station in March 2013 when discussing how things used to be done.


Odds of District Turning Blue in 2014: Less than 50-50. There are a lot of things at play here. One, the entire state is a district. However, as the state has two Senators and only one Representative, any strong Democratic candidate is going to think about making a run at the Senate rather than the House. Especially when dealing with an incumbent who hasn’t lost an election in 40 years.


Yet, Young has some cracks in his armor. He is now 80 years old. One would think that he has to start eyeing retirement soon. With the resent ‘wetback’ comment and continuing ethics investigations, he may just want to hang it up. However, he hasn’t yet stated that he will. Another thing we should notice is that not only does Alaska have a Democratic Senator, but that Obama increased his vote share in 2012 from 2008. This could show that Alaska is swinging more to the left and that it may not be the safe Red state it has always been.


Demographically, Alaska does have some diversity. While there are very few black voters, white voters are of a lower percentage than the country as a whole. Native Americans /Alaskans and Asians make up about 20% of the population. Also, compared to the rest of the country, Alaska’s citizens are younger, as only 8.1% are 65 and over.


It is possible that there is enough bad press with Young that the state might be willing to vote him out. Of course, he’s always been known as corrupt, and that hasn’t stopped him from being elected in the past. If the Democrats can present him with a strong challenger, or if the Tea Party decides to throw an extremist his way to primary him out, there might be away for this seat to change hands. Not overly likely, but possible.

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