Rep. Don Young’s question, “How many Jews were put in the ovens because they were unarmed?” disturbs me even more as I write this today than when I first heard it last week. Young’s comment was made in response to a question about school violence posed by Dmitri Shein at an Alaska Municipal League meeting. Shein, a Democrat, is one of two strong candidates for Young’s seat in the House of Representatives. The other candidate for Young’s seat is Alyse Galvin, who is running a vigorous campaign as an Independent.
Young has long made casually crude comments his own art form, seemingly relishing the notoriety and his reputation as a rogue. With this comment he has thrust Alaska into an international spotlight. Both the essence of the claim — that armed German Jews could have somehow stopped the Holocaust — and the appallingly insensitive words used — “Jews put into the oven” — stain all of us in Alaska. He is our representative. Around the country and around the world, people are reading this ludicrous statement made by our representative, our Alaskan representative.
Election after election, we keep electing him, and that needs to stop. Alaskans seem to have some kind of fatalism when it comes to lifetime politicians. The story goes something like, longevity brings power, and power in Congress brings benefits to Alaska. Well, Young is not in a powerful position — he has completed the chairmanships of his primary committees and he cannot become chair again.
This line of thinking, though, leads Alaska to never seriously considering a new candidate, and we re-elect and re-elect this man. Alaskans tell the world that we accept — no, endorse, by virtue of our electing him — his willful ignorance and his crude and cruel words and behavior.
Young is my representative in the House of Representatives, and has been so for my entire adult life. He does not, however, represent me and he never has. He doesn’t seem to want to. In the mid-80s I traveled to Washington, D.C. with a group testifying before a committee that Young was a member of. He stayed in the committee room throughout proceedings, until Alaskans began to testify against a policy that he supported. At the point that his Alaskan constituents began testifying, he noisily and dramatically rose and left the committee room, refusing even to hear his own constituents’ words.
This is our chance, Alaskans. Unseat this man. He is bad for us, bad for Alaska. Let’s dig in, let’s look at the platforms of Shein and Galvin. Let’s make our choice in the Primary and then let’s carry it through to the general election. Unseat Young.
• Michelle Bonnet Hale is a lifelong Alaskan residing in Juneau.