Many people in Ketchikan and across Alaska have a long acquaintance with Don Young, the Alaska Republican who now is serving his 25th term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
We know Young as a pro-resource-development conservative who’s unafraid to speak his mind. And in recent years, he has spoken often about California Democrat Nancy Pelosi and his dislike of policies that she supports.
So on Sunday, there must have been curiosity on the House floor about what Don Young would say when he paused for a brief speech before he — as the “dean” (longest-serving member) of the House — issued the oath of office to newly re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Madam Speaker, before I issue the oath, I’d like to take the privilege of the floor as the dean,” Young said.
“I’ve been in this House longer than anybody else,” Young continued. “I’ve served with you longer than anybody else has served with you. I love this institution. I will be honest, I do not like what I see. It’s time we hold hands and talk to one another.”
Young then waited for the round of applause that was prompted by his opening remarks to subside.
“And Madam Speaker — I say this with all sincerity — you will be the speaker of the House, not of a party,” Young said, adding that, in reference to other House representatives, “that may hurt some of you.
“The job of our nation is for the House of Representatives to govern this nation,” he said. “It was never meant to be the executive branch. It was never meant to be the judicial branch. It’s this House that raises the money and dedicates how it shall (be spent) and we are representing the people, as we’re elected.
“And I say this with all sincerity, Madam Speaker, that when you do have a problem or if there’s something so contentious, let’s sit down and have a drink,” he said, “and solve those problems for the good of this nation, for this institution, and, as you said, for the future children of this great nation. We can do it as a body. I ask you that, as the dean to the new speaker. I ask you to try to attempt to do that with our leader. We can do it together.”
Young then gave the oath of office to Pelosi, who was gracious in response.
“Thank you, dean,” Pelosi said. “I’m honored to be sworn in by you, my friend of many years. Thank you for your guidance and, again, I don’t drink, but I’m happy to have ice cream with anybody, any time.”
It was a remarkable moment between two political opponents.
The nation’s current political climate doesn’t provide much room for bipartisanship, with many viewing the middle ground as a scorched-earth, no-go zone in which angels and mere politicians tread at great peril to themselves. And while Young certainly would prefer to be working within a comfortable GOP majority in the House, it’s the Democrats who hold a slim (222-211) margin of control. Young could have used the occasion to blast Pelosi or otherwise make the oath of office a surly event. Instead, he voiced respect for Congress and it’s role in American government, and issued an appeal for House representatives to work together to solve problems for the good of the nation and its future generations of children.
His remarks won’t set well with the give-no-quarter members of either party, but remember that Don Young has served in Congress since 1973. He’s now worked with nine presidents, from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. He understands how political power ebbs and flows — and how things can be accomplished.
We don’t believe that Don Young’s long-held views have changed. He’s seen a change in the House of Representatives. From his experience, the change isn’t good, and, in true Don Young fashion, he wasn’t shy in voicing his opinion about a beneficial way forward.