Young: Don’t count on federal dollars to fix ferry

24-term U.S. rep visits Cordova in run-up to hotly contested election

Rep. Don Young addresses constituents at The Powder House bar and grill. (Aug. 31, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, answered residents’ questions during a Monday, Aug. 31-Tuesday, Sept. 1 visit to Cordova. Asked if federal funds might help Alaska repair its ailing ferry system, Young was skeptical.

“If you’re going to wait for the federal government to do it, you’ve got a long wait,” Young said. “I’ll be right frank with you. So don’t get caught in the idea of, we’re going to do this by just federal dollars. It’s going to have to take communities, it’s going to have to take the state and it’s going to have to take new management.”

Cordova must work with regional tribes and communities to form a local port authority or Alaska Marine Highway System government and management structure that can provide adequate service, since the state of Alaska has proven incapable of doing so, Mayor Clay Koplin said. The Native Village of Eyak would be unable to directly establish a port authority under Title 29 of the Alaska Statutes, which designates municipal governments, but not Tribal governments, as capable of establishing a port authority.

Young chatted with the public Aug. 31 at an informal and sometimes boisterous meet-and-greet hosted by The Powder House bar and grill. Young was accompanied by his wife, Anne Garland Walton, and staff from Alaskans for Don Young, Young’s campaign organization. It was the first time Young had visited Cordova in at least five years.

At The Powder House, Young, a former fifth-grade teacher, criticized what he described as the encroachment of political correctness into Alaska’s public schools, giving students an education inferior to that available at private and parochial schools. Young also broadly condemned what he characterized as attempts to evade individual and community responsibility by passing it on to the government. Some politicians running for office want to “sell their soul to the devil” by increasing government intrusion into Americans’ personal lives, Young said.

“This is the most famous handshake we have nowadays!” Young declared, holding out his palm in a begging gesture.

Front, from right, curator Denis Keogh guides Rep. Don Young and Young’s wife, Anne Garland Walton, on a tour of the Cordova Historical Museum. (Sept. 1, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The following day, Young toured the Cordova Historical Museum and the Cordova Public Library before participating in a somewhat more formal question-and-answer session with community leaders. Civic and business leaders in attendance included Koplin, city manager Helen Howarth, Cordova Chamber of Commerce executive director Cathy Renfeldt and Cordova District Fishermen United executive director Chelsea Haisman.

Asked by Renfeldt whether federal infrastructure or job-creation programs were under development to benefit workers deprived of regular income by the coronavirus pandemic, Young said that increasing productivity, rather than increasing spending, would be the most effective way to battle economic challenges.

“You can’t print your way out of a problem,” Young said. “If our economy goes in the tank, which it’s beginning to do so, because we’re not producing, we’re consuming, then you have inflation, and that’s the cruelest of all.”

To help repair the local economy, Young suggested an advertising campaign to rebuild Alaska’s status as a tourist destination and to convince the public to resume cruise ship travel to Alaska. The independent travelers presently most likely to visit Cordova opt to travel by ferry rather than by cruise ship, Renfeldt said. As it stands, hotels usually at 100 percent occupancy at this time of year are at around 20 percent occupancy, and dozens of workers are likely to lose their jobs after the lean winter months arrive, Vice Mayor Melina Meyer said.

“I’m not going to tell you a lot of nonsense,” Young said. “It’s going to be a tough time.”

Young also responded to concerns about environmental pollution and the year’s low-performing salmon fishery. Young supports transferring management of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to the state in order to improve management of sea otters, sea lions and other predators that have damaged fishery runs, he said. Culling predators has been made more difficult by the concerns of people in other regions of the U.S., he said.

“You cannot not recognize that they’re predators, and they will destroy the species that you’re trying to promote,” Young said. “To me, the community is more important than that sea lion.”

Young also suggested reducing plastic pollution in the oceans by launching a laboratory housed in a modified aircraft carrier. Such a vessel could suck up plastic waste and then convert it into oil using the onboard laboratory, Young said.

From left, Rep. Don Young and Mayor Clay Koplin at The Powder House bar and grill. (Aug. 31, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Elected as mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964, Young embarked on a decades-long political career marked by a blunt and sometimes confrontational style. In 1994, in one of numerous colorful incidents, Young brandished a walrus baculum, or penis-bone, while on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2014, the House Ethics Committee fined Young for putting campaign funds to personal use and for “improperly accepting impermissible gifts.” Despite these and other brushes with scandal, Young became the Republican Party’s longest-serving member of the House, having been elected 24 times to represent Alaska’s at-large congressional district. Young also served as chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Resources Committee, and is the current Dean of the House.

Nov. 3, Young will run against Alyse Galvin, an independent nominated by the Alaska Democratic Party, to represent Alaska’s at-large congressional district. It will be Galvin’s second time challenging Young, having mounted an unsuccessful bid to unseat him in 2018. Figures published in July by Public Policy Polling, a firm associated with the Democratic Party, showed Galvin leading Young by two points. However, in 2018, polling by firms such as Alaska Survey Research also indicated a narrow victory for Galvin in an election that Young ultimately carried by 6.6 points.

“If you wanna start over, go ahead,” Young said. “You’re welcome to it. But you’re not going to have the knowledge, nor the experience.”