Alaska Congressman Don Young, dean of the house, has died at 88

Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young during a pre-pandemic hearing.

Alaska Rep. Don Young died today at the age of 88.

Young, Alaska’s longest-serving congressman and Dean of the House, died today according to several sources as well as a report by Alaska Public Media. The news was later confirmed by his office, which released the following statement:

“It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young (R-AK), 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. His beloved wife Anne was by his side.

A fierce defender of Alaska since elected to Congress in 1973, nearly everything that has advanced for Alaska is a result of Don Young’s tenacious work. From the Trans-Alaska pipeline, to the Ketchikan Shipyard, to the Magnuson Stevens Act, which transformed the American fishing industry, to the numerous land exchanges he fought for, Don Young’s legacy cannot be overstated.

“Every day, I try to do something for somebody and some group,” Congressman Young once said. “And every day I try to learn something new. We all go into the ground the same way. The only thing we leave behind are our accomplishments.”

Don Young’s legacy as a fighter for the state will live on, as will his fundamental goodness and his honor. We will miss him dearly. His family, his staff, and his many friends ask Alaskans for their prayers during this difficult time.

In the coming days, we will be sharing more details about plans for a celebration of his life and his legacy.”

Young was a pugnacious legislator who represented Alaska’s lone congressional district since 1973 when he won the seat in a special election. While a solid conservative throughout his time in Congress, he had times where he strayed from the party line to stand up for Alaska. He was one of the key organizers of Republican support for last year’s federal infrastructure bill, which brought significant federal money to Alaska, and was the co-chair of the congressional cannabis caucus.

Young was in the process of seeking his 26th term in Congress with a campaign co-chaired by Anchorage Republican Sen. Josh Revak. Young’s main competitors already in the race include Democratic challenger Christopher Constant and Republican challenger Nick Begich, whose grandfather formerly held the seat.

As pointed out by Alaska Public Media, Young often said he would stay in office until the Alaska voters or God decided otherwise.

State law requires the seat to be filled in a special primary election to be held between 60 and 90 days to serve the remainder of Young’s term with a special election to be held 60 days after that. How that interacts with the state’s regular primary, which is 151 days away, isn’t immediately clear. The law also requires at least 50 days’ notice prior to the election.

State law contains no provisions for the position to be temporarily filled by appointment.

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