Discussing Legislative Effectiveness with Representative Don Young
Congressman Don Young (R-AK) was elected as the representative for Alaska’s at-large district in 1973. His decades of service since have given him a wealth of experience navigating Capitol Hill, as well as a unique perspective of changes to the legislative institution through time. As one of our all-time highest ranking lawmakers for legislative effectiveness, Professors Craig Volden (UVA) and Alan E. Wiseman (Vanderbilt University), Co-Directors of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, ask Representative Young to share his thoughts and stories on how to be an effective lawmaker.
Transcript as follows:
Rep. Young (00:00):
Well, I mean, it’s a beautiful sunshiny day in Anchorage, and that makes me feel good. It’s cold. It’s six degrees. So, it’s a little chilly.
Alan E. Wiseman (00:11):
Excellent. Well, thanks so much for joining us for a Center for Effective Lawmaking interview. We’ll be asking you a series of fairly general questions, but we’d love to hear from you and some specific examples from different points in your career that speak to some of these questions. And you know what Craig and I say… Craig, I know you’ve met in the past as a Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. He’s housed at the University of Virginia. My name is Alan Wiseman. I’m the other Co-Director and I’m housed at Vanderbilt University. And let’s just say that we’re so excited to get a chance to sit down with you for one of these events – really looking across the wide spans of our data for over the past 40 plus years, you are essentially an illustration of a highly effective lawmaker to say the least. Looking across these years, we know that essentially in our data, you’ve exceeded expectations for lawmaking effectiveness in every one of the 23 congresses that we have data for. On top of that, you’ve been in our top 10 lists for the most effective Republicans 17 times for 17 different congresses. And you’d actually been scored as the most effective Republican in the House of Representatives, most effective lawmaking Republican, on nine separate occasions. So this really serves, getting a chance to talk with you and your experiences in Congress, really provides us with some great on the ground expertise on what it means to be an effective lawmaker in contemporary times. So we really appreciate it.
Rep. Young (01:34):
My pleasure. And I love to have you that type of introduction because my opponent’s think I’m not effective. So don’t kid yourself. I will use that.
Alan E. Wiseman (01:45):
Okay. Thank you. Well, I mean, all that said, if you don’t mind, let’s just rewind the clock a little bit and we’d love to get your perspective on what it was like, when you first entered Congress. How do you think your own prior experiences before being elected to Congress and your background came into play? What were you hoping to accomplish when you entered Congress?
Rep. Young (02:05):
Well, keep in mind, in the first place I never was, I never did plan on being a Congressman. That was a long story. But I did get elected the state legislative body and in a multiple district from a very rural community. Fort Yukon is my home. I was married to an Alaskan native woman. I had two beautiful daughters. I was happy. I had my tugboat. I was trapping in the winter. I was living the dream and my past wife said, ‘you know, we’re not being represented in Juno. You’re going to run.’ That was 1964. I lost – that hurt my feelings a little bit – but I also understood that the world doesn’t stop turning when you lose. Because I already started with my wife…We started running for ’66, we won one of seven and ’68 I was number one vote-getter.
Rep. Young (02:55):
Remember I’m 80 miles, excuse me, 190 miles away from, Fairbanks, where all of them are elected from. And I ran for Senate and it was tough because it was all right to be one of seven, but it wasn’t all right to be one of two. And basically both parties ganged up on me, but I still won, cause I went door-to-door around and around – it’s a huge district, probably bigger than any other state in the union, but Texas, the district itself. So I won and got to the Senate. Hated it. And by the way, I was very effective in the state legislative body with 68 I was number one vote-getter the seventies as I said. But I got to the Senate, hated it, came home one day and my past wife said, ‘We’re getting out of this job. You’re not happy.’ And I said, ‘I don’t quit.’ She says, ‘You’re not going to quit. You’re running for Congress. We’ll never win.’ And so I ran and as usual I ran hard and the numbers looked good – not winning but good. And, the seated Congressman … this is day, by the way, 16th of October, his anniversary… He and Hale Boggs and, a staffer… Two staffers… and the pilot got on Cessna 310 and took off and we’ve never found them. It was the most extensive search in history. It was 36 days. They spent millions of dollars looking and never found him – and he still beat me. Sort of a humiliating experience to be beat by a dead man. But he did. But then I got chosen again by the central district, Republican, ran in a special election and won and I’ve been winning ever since – close races. Now I say that because I am who I am and on my being effective is one : is because I am who I am. And since I will tell you if the sky is blue, it’s blue, If the sun’s up, the sun’s up and there’s no in between. And some of these other legislators, they sort of waffle. I don’t do that because to me, the job is to serve the people, not to get elected. I want to get elected because I do a good job, but my job is to serve the people, people know that.
Craig Volden (05:03):
So then when you entered Congress, you had had a number of years of experience in the state legislature. Did that help you in taking on the congressional job?
Rep. Young (05:12):
Immensely. I use the analogy…. I have to tell you this story. I am bad about this.. you can have as long as you want… but this story …the knock against me, cause I was in Fort Yukon, a native village. They said, ‘Oh, Young, it’ll take him two years to find the bathroom.’ And they’ll say all that, and you know, I took that pretty seriously. I got sworn in by Carl Albert. I got assigned my office, which was the ex-congressman’s office, the Longworth Building. And I made my mind up: I went out and I found the restroom that very first day I was there. We’d go out my door, take a right, go down four doors, it’s on the left. And I did this for five days. I’ll get up, go down and the deal. And finally on the Monday following the five days, Monday, I started got up, started to go out the door and my little assistant who used to work for the previous Congressman she said, ‘Congressman, where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to the restroom. I found it the first day I was here.’ And she looked at me, she says, ‘Why don’t you use the one in your office?’
Rep. Young (06:17):
But the experience did help me, being in a state legislative body. It was actually like playing in a grammar school football yard or field and going to college or going to pros. It’s the same game, it’s just played a little differently, a little larger field, little more players, but its the same game, that’s very beneficial. If you’re seeking bigger offices, you should try to get into a minor office just to learn the rules, how to do it, where to go and who to speak to.
Alan E. Wiseman (06:48):
That’s really helpful. I mean, related to that, especially thinking about the similarity of opportunities or duties between the state legislature to Congress, I’m wondering… If you think about your day to day activities, how do you find yourself navigating what are sometimes very different parts of your jobs that are asked of you as a member of Congress – from writing laws to help engage with your constituents directly, to engaging an oversight? Are there some parts of your job that you generally find more exciting or interesting than others? And how do you strike this balance?
Rep. Young (07:19):
Well, the big thing people don’t understand – It is a very difficult job. It’s one I enjoy. And one of the key things is you have to have a very good staff and I have a very good staff, always have a good staff. They love working for me because I’m not a hounder, I don’t bother people as long as they do what’s good for Alaska, for me and for the state of Alaska, they’re free. They can make up ideas, thoughts and everything else. They get their thoughts. I get my thoughts from the constituents I serve. And that’s the biggest argument I have with people running for Congress and they go before the constituents: ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that. I want to do this.’ That’s all nonsense. And it really does a disservice to the concept of the term “representative.”
Rep. Young (08:06):
And I really, if you look at my past, more laws than any- that’s why I’m called more effective than any other congressmen- and I’ve been able to do that because the laws I pass, 90% of them are laws that are directly related to Alaska. That’s my job. So the staff counts it. And again, the state legislative experience was crucial because, you know, you got to know how to go to the legislative council. What’s your staff …. You have to tell them what you need, what you want from the constituents, which you serve. And I’ve been very good at that. And I guess I would say one other thing. The golden rule isn’t applied as it should. I apply it all the time. If I gave you my word, I’ll do it. Even if it’s painful in the future. And sometimes it is times change. But to me, that word is gold. A lot of members of Congress now are sort of forgetting that and they play the ole’.. Put their finger up and see which way the wind’s blowing. That’s not good governing. In fact, that’s bad governing. And so I play that rule and people know it. They know they talked to Don Young, he says, he’s going to do it, he’ll do it. And there’s no changing your mind or anything like that.
Craig Volden (09:19):
You were talking about the importance of staff and you know, many members are having such difficulty with so much staff turnover. They’re moving on to other things. How do you maintain a good staff over time?
Rep. Young (09:34):
Well, I have a rule, like I say, they like working for me cause I don’t hound them. I don’t bother them. And they can use their imagination and they can use their … they feel like they’re accomplishing something. And when you have a person that works for you and they feel like that, they’ll stay. I also say though, I encourage them not to stay too long. I’ll keep them if they’re doing their job. But you know, this is a fluctuating business. My contract comes up every two years and if I lose, they lost their job. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the rules of the game in a sense, not everybody, but most of them lose their jobs. But I encourage him to use the experience they get. Try to go on to another political arena, work for a governor or work for a Senator. You know, Dan Sullivan has got six of my staffers on his staff.
Rep. Young (10:25):
I love that! People say, ‘What are you taking your staff?’ You bet! That gives the staff members expansion and exposure and actually helps me out. Believe it or not, it helps me out a lot. So I encourage that. I try to train them, in a sense, they have the opportunity. And a lot of times I’ve had people come back to me and say, ‘I wish we were working for you again.’ Well, I understand that, but that’s really important, my turnover… and by the way, I’ve only fired one staffer in my whole career. And, that was my fault cause I took the recommendations and the resume and the person wasn’t nearly as qualified as they should have been. So that’s the only one. And I think I’ve hired 153 different staffers. By the way, 53% of them were ladies, 20% were minorities and 10% were handicapped or less fortunate. And all of them were qualified and they did their jobs as they should. And that’s why they don’t leave. And then some of them do – they go onto better things. But they really… I haven’t had to fire anybody.
Craig Volden (11:36):
Right. Right. And you were talking about how they’re helping you advance your legislation as well and coming up with ideas, the flip side of moving something forward is trying to stop some legislation. I’m recalling back when we talking to you in your DC office and you had a wonderful story about trying to stop a trapping limitation, testifying maybe with a trap on your own hand? I wonder if you could share that story with us for those who are wondering how one could go about stopping legislation as well?
Rep. Young (12:11):
Well, you know, that’s another point you bring up very well – it’s not what I can do for you, it’s what I can keep from happening to you. There’s a lot of negative legislation, it does affect my lives and my people in Alaska. I haven’t thought it all. .. But the trap deal, I’ll tell you the story. I hope it doesn’t offend anybody, but it tells you how things have changed a little, but are still the same. I was on the Merchant Marine Fisheries Committee, which was probably the better committee of all the committees I’ve ever served on. it handled coastguard, fish, and wildlife, all these things that has merchant marine and fisheries. And I loved the committee. I’ve been through a lot of different chairmen, but I’ve usually had good chairmen. But we disbanded it in 1994 and eliminated it. And there’s a good side of that story, but I was very upset.
Rep. Young (13:03):
So they eliminated it. But prior to that, we had a bill introduced by a gentlemen, Congressman from California, that ban leg hold traps. Your audience probably doesn’t understand that, but that’s what you use the victor trap the Thompson trap. It’s a sprung trap. It was two springs or one spring. And it has jaws that shut on the person or the animal’s leg. And they were trying to eliminate it. Or at that time, this was 40 some odd years ago, at that time, that was one of the major cash sources for my Alaska natives. And he was trying to eliminate that. And, that made me very irritated. I go into the room to sit and listen to this testimony though, in the morning of Cleveland Amory and Mary Tyler Moore, and they had a table, of course, a witness table, and they’d set all these traps down on the table. And she was reciting a poem, ‘Oh, how much longer it must they wait, these poor little animals their terrible fate?’
Rep. Young (14:03):
And when they do that, Cleveland Amory put a pencil into the trap spring and it slapped. And of course it pops and the led flies like a leg. Or at least that’s what they were insinuating. Or he had a roll of papers. And then when we come to that, ‘how much longer they must wait’ and pop. And I looked around at my fellow colleagues, both sides of the aisle, they’re all from cities. And they’re deeply impressed about this terrible thing. And maybe I was losing them. And I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ And they recessed. I was testifying at one o’clock 1:30. And I go back to my office and I’m just sort of wringing my hands. And thinking ‘how do I get their attention back on how this will affect my Alaska natives?’
Rep. Young (14:48):
And my past wife said, ‘You know, have a trap here.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And she says, ‘it’s a mink trap.’ And I said, ‘yeah, that’s a single-sprung double-jawed one. She says, ‘take it in, set it on the table, set it and at the end of the testimony let the trap on your fingers.’ I looked at her… and she says ‘it would make an impression.’ And I said, ‘yeah, it’ll make an impression alright!’ I don’t know if you ever put your finger in a mouse trap, but … So I go in and I said, ‘Mr. Chairman!’ I’d set the trap. ‘You’ve seen a lot of testimony today about how hurtful and how damaging these traps on these animals and their poor little fate. And I want to prove to you that it’s not that bad at all. It’s a means of harvesting the fur for my people.’ And I said, ‘I want to give this testimony with the trap on my fingers.’ And he looked at me, it was Bob Legget, and he looked at me with big eye, and I went BAM and that trap snapped on my fingers. And I put it up and I said, ‘see this and doesn’t hurt that much’ inside I was saying ‘oh shit!’
Rep. Young (15:53):
But the room was full of PETA. All these animal lovers and the hate – you could smell it. I mean, it was really not good. And finally, I get finished my testimony and the chairman says, ‘take your hand off and out of that trap’. So I did and put my hand in my pocket real quick, because it was blue. Anyway, the questions- I saw the speaker going up to the Congress from California and they started asking questions, finally got to him and he says, ‘Congressman,’ He says, ‘how much do you weigh?’ And I says, ‘245,’ I was bigger then, and he says, ‘and, the traps that you showed on your hand, what was it?’ and I told him ‘double jawed single sprung.’ He said, ‘well, what size animals do you catch with that?’ I said, ‘well, we catch mink and marten and fox and maybe a lynx.’ And he says, ‘what is the mink weigh?’
Rep. Young (16:43):
And I said ‘about a pound and a half maybe 2.45,’ and he led up to this and he says, ‘would you be willing to put your hand in another trap?’ Now I figured the biggest trap they had in the room was the number four. That’s double sprung, double jawed trap. It’s a big trap, but I’ve done it before you put your hand in it like that. Don’t put your fingers in it and it catches you right here and you can do it. You can’t get it off, someone has to get it off for you. So you have to be real careful. And of course the adrenaline is running. I want to prove my point. And I said, ‘yes.’ And as soon as I did this young man and jumped up behind me, he said, ‘you put your hand in this trap!’
Rep. Young (17:21):
It was a number 14 bear trap. It was that big. And I’m saying to myself inside, ‘Oh Jesus.’ But this is how you play this game in a way. I looked the guy and I said, ‘is that trap operative?’ He blinked. I turned to the chairman and I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, if that trap is not bolted down, or not welded, he’s committing a felony. It’s a $10,000 fine. and one year in jail.’ You’ve never seen a trap disappear so fast in your life. Away it went. Later on the chairman says ‘that the law?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, but he didn’t know either.’ So we eliminated that part of it … End of the story (and that was too long) And two weeks later, I get a letter it was for Congressman Don Young, and I opened it up – that was back in the old days, they didn’t have email- open it up it’s a legal pad and folded around a form.
Rep. Young (18:03):
And I thought because of legal pads and what a hypocrite, I thought, okay, this was going to be fun. I opened it up and it’s an insurance form for a full length, wild caught mink coat and the insurer was the guy that introduced the bill. And I went to him a little later. I says, ‘gee, I hope your wife enjoys your coat.’ And he says, ‘you know how we feel about this, my wife doesn’t have a fur coat.’ I says ‘she doesn’t, but I know somebody who does’ and he turned dead white. He had a mistress. So we stopped. I protected my people.
Alan E. Wiseman (18:47):
Thanks so much for sharing that story Congressman. I want to keep us focused also on the way in which you really just maintain a singular focus on Alaska and priorities. And this is very consistent with things that Craig and I have noted in our own research about you, but we’re also really interested in essentially, how are you so successful at getting other members of Congress to be interested in issues that might not have a major impact in their own district, but they’re obviously very, very important to you and your constituency.?
Rep. Young (19:17):
Well, the big thing is I’m fortunate because there’s only one of me .And that gives me more power than California with 53. And I could go on Texas, Florida, et cetera. There’s no argument that this is Alaskan position. And that helps me out tremendously. And I made a lot of friends with a lot of people, you know I’m bipartisan and I go across the aisle. I work on them because when it only affects Alaska … now when the national interest groups get involved, that makes it more difficult. And you know, the groups that are… Sierra Club and I could go on down the line…37 different interest groups… that makes it difficult. Cause they do get lots of letters from their constituents cause they’re ginned up and that makes it difficult. But through friendships and explaining what it does, I’ve been very successful in convincing my fellow colleagues: This is good for Alaska. And again, I pride myself, because I am the representative. I wish more Congressman remember *represent your district.* Don’t be representing everybody’s district. In fact, when I was chairman of Resources and actually chairman of Transportation, when chairman of Resources, we had the “Young rule.” And the Young rule is you never voted against another member’s district- you follow what I’m saying? People have a tendency to get involved in someone else’s district. And I know what’s best for the district. And I don’t tolerate that. In fact, John McCain bless his heart, he was on my committee. And he voted me in the sense that he voted against one of our elder colleagues that actually hurt that district. And I removed him from the Committee. And because you don’t… It’s a golden rule, that’s the Don Young rule. But that’s what we don’t remember in Congress, that the role of the congressman is to represent their district, if there are 750,000 people, you represent them. I don’t represent the 750,000 people in San Francisco. (I wouldn’t do it anyway.) But I’m just saying that’s where we make the mistake now. Because of the national media, we become stars on TV. Don’t do that, pay attention to your district. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
Craig Volden (21:26):
Now, as Alan was mentioning in the beginning, you’ve done that when you’re in the minority party, when you’re in the majority party, junior member, senior member, and, and so on, committee chair, how do things change when you’re in those different positions, in terms of how you would go about lawmaking?
Rep. Young (21:45):
Well, you know, I don’t want to go too far ahead, but a lot has changed. I go back to my concept of being able to work. You know John Dingell was probably the most powerful chairman ever in the history of the Congress. People didn’t know how I got a lot of things done. Remember this guy, Democrats have been in charge (I call them Democrats not socialists) they’ve been in charge for 48 years. But I knew him prior to me becoming a congressman because he’s a hunter and fisherman. And he never thought I’d be a congressman, I didn’t think I was gonna be a congressman! But I got elected. And the first thing, I get a phone call from John, the Chairman, he says, ‘Don, this is Chairman Dingell.’ And I said, ‘Chairman it’s an honor…’ He says, ‘let’s go hunt.’ Well, we went out to Eastern shore and hunted ducks, because remember when I got elected… So we had this relations, we go hunting there, we, you know, deal. And so when I had a problem with Alaska, even though it wouldn’t be legislation to the free standing bill, I go to the Chairman and say, ‘you know, Mr. Chairman, this is what this does.’ It’s a bill, but I’m telling him what it does et cetera. And he look at it and – remember the staff wasn’t doing this it was him- and he’d say, ‘you know, Don, that’s a good idea. I’ll put it in the bill.’ And he put it in the bill and get it done. I don’t get credit for that, but the constituents’ problem was solved. And that’s because we had relationships. And that doesn’t exist today. That’s a big difference, big difference. And knowledge is good. I like to brag about the fact that I’m from the bush, but I also live in the city. And they recognize, I speak for Alaska. I don’t always win. But a lot of times I do.
Alan E. Wiseman (23:33):
I mean, that’s a really interesting point. You’re raising in terms of how you cultivate relationships with other members of Congress, especially on the other side of the aisle. I mean, I guess related to that, a question that we’ve often wondered about is how important you think it is for members of Congress to really align their legislative goals and portfolios with their district interests, which obviously you care about a lot as well as with the committee assignments? How important do you think it is for you to have been on committees that speak directly to Alaskan’s interests?
Rep. Young (24:03):
Well, I think the committees… you know, I was fortunate. I got to be put on the Merchant Marine Fisheries Committee, got put on the, at that time was called Interior Initial Affairs and I was on the Post Office Committee. Committees mean a lot. I wasn’t on Transportation but I was on the right committees. And again, the weakness, I know one of your questions, what happened at that time when I first came back to the John Dingells, the John Murphys, Mr. Witten, they ran the Congress .And I made an effort because I’m a single member to make sure I met all the chairmen. And they were interested cause I’m from Alaska . The chairmen ran the Congress. And that was the beauty of it and I loved it because the chairman would pick out an issue that was national across the board. And then they would … ‘this is what we want to solve.’ And they would, we would bring witnesses in, we gained the knowledge and at five o’clock in the evening, just about every day, and we were working. (We worked a lot harder than by the way, cause you did go back and forth to home. That’s another story.) But we would have a little, uh, bourbon and branch water and we’d discuss it – Republican and Democrats in the same room. And then we’d come to a committee decision. *Committee decision.* What we were going to do. Now, when we’d go to markup, you could offer amendments in the committee, both sides. And we’d usually have an agreement between like Walter Jones and I and even Mr. Taylor we’d have an agreement prior to that, between the two of us. And if his side introduced an amendment that hurt the bill, we voted down. If my side introduced one, we’d vote down.
Rep. Young (25:54):
It wasn’t Democrat and Republican. So then when we go to the floor, it was a committee bill. And we would talk for the committee bill, although the Chairman was a Democrat and they would give us in a sense part of our program. And they would defend both of us. Now, you weren’t even allowed to … You didn’t dare offer to committee, if you were on the committee committee itself, to the bill. I guarantee if you do that then the chairman wouldn’t recognize you the rest of the year. So it was pretty strict. Oh, ‘that’s not democracy.’ Yes, it is because we, listen, we listen, you had an opportunity. And then if you lost in the committee, you didn’t dare go to the floor. And then we would pass the bill as a committee bill – transportation, or resource or whatever. And it worked so well, you know. And then that started changing a little bit under Newt and then he left it alone and then Nancy became the speaker and it all had to go through the speaker’s office.
Rep. Young (26:49):
There aren’t even any … no committee chairman anymore. They’re told what to do for the party. I’m very irritated now on both sides of the aisle, the speakers become the speakers for the party. They’re supposed to be speakers for the Congress. So both sides can have input, have a knowledge, governing this great country of ours. But we’re not doing that. And I can go on and on about that. But that’s part of the problem: relationship building.
Craig Volden (27:15):
We’re going to want to break that down into its various parts. So the one I’m going to take first is that idea of gaining expertise. And so you were saying one arena for gaining that expertise is in the committee process – hearings, talking with colleagues and so on. Another is just sort of specialization. Alaska is so big and there’s so many different issues you could raise. One could imagine your bills scattered all over the place. Alternatively, there are some members of Congress who say, ‘I’m going to focus on healthcare or I’m going to focus on education.’ How much has that idea of specialization important to members to move their legislation forward to gain that expertise?
Rep. Young (28:01):
You just hit upon what I don’t think is correct : “I’m gonna.” “I’m gonna,” that’s not the role of a Congressman. If y constituents come to me and say ‘we think you can help us in this realm of education’ then I work on that problem and try to solve the problem .What the Congress has become is ‘I’m gonna.’ They do it because they love the TV. They love the show. They all become show horses and that’s not the role. And I think people in Congress recognize what I do. I’ve had people say, ‘you know, maybe this is not right by people,’ But he says, ‘it’s Don Young’s district.’ And I think of all the congressmen and say, ‘okay, I’m representing my district.’ Then you’d have better governing bodies. I mean, you’d have a body that’s governing, that’s your role. And now we’ve sort of lost that. Like I said before, we bring a lot of things to the floor that had nothing to do with the member’s district. It’s national. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be part of the national group too?’ But that’s not your concentration. Your concentration is on your constituents and that’s what I’ve been doing.
Alan E. Wiseman (29:08):
I’m curious across the course of your career, you’re raising a bunch of really interesting examples about the way in which the chambers changed, the relationship between rank and file members on committees. But I’m wondering, if you had to answer, what would you say, what would you consider to be your biggest legislative triumph across your many years in the House? And how do you think you really brought it about, or alternatively, what obstacles did you feel you confronted and how’d you overcome them?
Rep. Young (29:33):
Well, I think I’ve got a lot of big ones. You have the Trans-Alaskan pipeline, it was a great stroke of genius for the nation. That was a national, but a state issue, but I had a little help. I’m a freshman, three days after I’m sworn in, I’m introducing a bill, not just to broaden our rightaway. I introduced a bill to be no lawsuits. And you know, the trial lawyers had a fit, but guess what? We passed the bill, got to sign a law and we built the pipeline in three years. Second big bill, I think is ..the so called Magnuson Stevens Economic Zone, 200 mile limit. That bill was my bill. It was written by myself and Gary Studds. Again, Gary’s in the majority. Gary was a little different, but he’s a dear friend of mine.
Rep. Young (30:26):
But he knew fish and he and I got together. And what started out on my side of the aisle, I went to him and instigated this. I was in Kodiak, Alaska in 1970, two years before I ran for office. I was a state Senator then, I just got elected. At nighttime. I looked out at 12 miles off our shore. There was a line of lights, fishing boats, catching our fish. And I turned to the guy, my host, and said, that’s dead wrong. We had Polish people. We had Chinese people. You have Russian people. They had Korean people. You name, catching our fish. So when I first got back to Congress, other than the pipeline, and the second thing I did, look at the timeframe, I went to Gary and I said, ‘we’ve got to stop this. We got to do this. If we want to sustain yield of fish in our waters. ‘So we passed the Magnuson Stevens Act. It was Gary Studd’s act. At that time it was a young Studd’s act. But anyway, the concept was we’d have a 200 pound economic zone. The States would have to give up with the nation nine miles. So we ended up with three miles cause it was 12 miles down the three of them, but we had to control 200 miles out. Huge success story, all the other nations adopted it, we adopted it. And before it became law, though it passed the House, passed the Senate, that’s where Magnuson was in the majority and Ted Stevens, our senior citizens, they name as the Magnuson Stevens act. But it’s passed the House, passed the Senate, conference and the bills on President Ford’s desk. And the President calls me and asked me to go to Anchorage on Air Force One, cause he’s going to Japan and it was Thanksgiving.
Rep. Young (32:14):
And I said, sir, ‘all due respect, that’s a holiday for my family.’ So his chief of staff calls me two days later and says, ‘if we take your wife and yourself, will you go?’ And I said, ‘it was a family event.’ Two days after that, I get a call from the chief of staff. And he said, ‘if we take your whole family will you go?’ And I said, ‘yes.’ Now we’re heading to Anchorage. Excuse me, Fairbanks. And on the plane, guess who’s there : Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State. And I don’t know if you’ve ever gone on Air Force One it’s sort of exciting because they have a real neat thing. And we have a big conference room and President Ford liked these martinis and I did too. And Henry Kissinger, I’m not going to say anything on what he drank, he didn’t drink, but we got to discussing this economic zone.
Rep. Young (33:04):
The 200 pound limit, the saving of our fish. And Kissinger in the State Department, he was adamantly opposed to it. The foreigners, the other people would be adamant by this, ‘Mr. President, grumble grumble. I said “Mr. President, that’s not true. It was primarily aimed at Japan and the fisheries, because I told him, I says ‘the Japanese we’ll find out how to get the fish.’ I proved right later on, but because they didn’t do what I said, they bought processing plants but they still got the fish. But anyway, this argument went on for about 10 hours because we’re in the air and go on a deal And a plane landed. He got off, I got off, Henry got off, we had a nice big ceremony, yada, yada, yada, they get back on the airplane. I stay there. He gets in the airplane, landed, then he signed my bill. That’s one of the best things that ever happened to me, which gave us a sustainable yield concept – preservation of fishery, not preservation, sustainable preservation, preservation of fish. And that’s probably one of my bigger and greater success stories because if I hadn’t been on that airplane, if hadn’t happened to argue with the president, I don’t think it would have happened. And so I still say…Now we’ve got a lot of other ones, but like I said, I got a lot of bills, but that was very important for the state of Alaska.
Craig Volden (34:23):
Great. And thanks for sharing that. And that shows the idea of keeping with things after they leave the House to the Senate, to the President and so on now. You’ve been pretty successful along those lines. And we’ve seen so many House bills die in the Senate over time. How do you work with either the Alaska senators? You had mentioned their staffs and so on, to keep things moving. Once they leave the House.
Rep. Young (34:48):
Well, there’s two things that need to happen. You have to write a good bill, number one. I hear the other side of the aisle now and then last year, this year, especially “we’ve written, we passed so many bills to the Senate and the Senate hasn’t acted.” Most of them are crap between you and I. They’re not good bills. How do you expect them to pass? Because there was no working together. There was no understanding. It didn’t solve… It was a partisan bill. So don’t expect the Senate to pass it. But you know, I work with our senators real close. We don’t always agree. I like to say that they got the big yard, but I got my own side yard. And as long as they don’t have interfere on my side, I won’t interfere on their side. But together we might play on a big playground and we do. Very rarely, because we’re really, I’m really basically a third Senator.
Rep. Young (35:34):
They don’t like me to say that, but I’m doing the same job with less staff and everything else they are. But we really work together. Now there’s a difference of opinion on some things. The most recent one is a big one is the so-called Pebble mine. And they both came out against the Pebble mine cause it was politically supposedly incorrect. And they bugged me and I said, ‘remember, one thing it is state land. It is not federal land. The state was given that land, the state put it up for discovery. They put it up for exploration and the state put us up for production. If the permits are permittable by the state.’ And what they’ve done, they’ve encouraged the legislating body, Murray ,Cantwell, everybody, that this is our land. And if it isn’t to be developed that’s a decision of the state. And politically that’s not the right position to take.
Rep. Young (36:25):
But again, you are correct. That’s what gives me a lot of power. You’re correct. And if you’re steadfast in your belief people will reward you. And they may not agree with you, because they know I am right indirectly, but they don’t want to cross lines. But besides that, we work real close together. And I appreciate that. I’ve had … all the senators I’ve served with all the senators but two, Mr. Bartlett died before I became a Congressman. Ted Stevens took his place. Ernest Gruening had been beat, but he was still around. But all the other senators and I basically had a good working relationship, even when it was Gravel (it was Gravel, by the way, now it’s a Grave-elle), but Martin in their role, but he was also, we worked together, cause we have to cause we represent the same people.
Alan E. Wiseman (37:19):
That’s really helpful. I am wondering, I mean, you’ve already alluded this a little bit, but what do you think are some of the greatest changes that you’ve seen in the institution of Congress as a whole or the House in particular over your career and how do you think it affects lawmaking either in a constructive ways or counterproductive ways?
Rep. Young (37:40):
Without being, you know, the Old Man, we were more productive and wrote better legislation when I first went down because there was that cohesiveness across the aisle, working together, solving problems really governing in this nation. And it started slipping. And I was part of it. We started slipping. You may not think this but it started slipping when we started to have CNN. When we started broadcasting the activities on the floor, exposure of, conferences being televised, there was no ability to anymore, to make a deal that started slipping.
Rep. Young (38:24):
And that was the reason I was involved in it. The first televised debate nationalized was at Alaska National Anzac. And it was Tip O’Neill and he wanted to see how it worked and it took off. Now we have, I don’t know, a million people watch crazy program. If I didn’t have anything better to do than sit and watch Congress, I’d go shoot myself. But they do a lot of them. So we do that all the time. So there’s a difference. Debate is not debate anymore. It’s a show for the local consumption at home. It’s not a debate. There’s no really changing… No one has changed their mind in a debate in the past35 years, it’s show. So that was one of the first beginning, I call, a decaying of the governing body. The second thing that happened over a period of time was of course, as I mentioned before, where the chairmen lost their chairmanships, their chairmen only in figurehead only, where everything’s run through the speaker, regardless of what party.
Rep. Young (39:25):
And it’s a party position, not an United States of Congress position. And there is no Republican solution or Democrat solution. There has to be a joint solution if you’re going to solve a problem. We are not doing that. We’re not doing it at all now. Okay. Added to that was the concept of earmarks. “Oh, we can’t have earmark’s we’re breaking the budget.” The States are receiving the same amount of money or more, but now the congressmen or the senators have no ability to take care of other communities, large communities, including the state Capitol. So the state this versus the money, and that goes to the larger areas. So districts and states are being ignored and that was the grease that made the wheels work real well. And of course again, when I first went down there, you only got 12 trips a year back to your district.
Rep. Young (40:18):
And I like to use an example: My first Congressman came back to the state once a year. Now he had a propeller driven airplane. Second Congressman got elected came back four times because we’re allowed 12 trips. And my predecessor came back 12 and he came back every month. And then 1974, or 76 or 74. I don’t remember which, they gave us 52 round trips and that’s great if you’re in New York or you’re in dadadada, but it’s bad when you’re in Alaska or somewhere else. But it was worse for the Congress because nobody knows anybody anymore. We used to play golf together. We’d go hunting together, the wives knew the wives, the kids knew the kids. So we had a sort of a understanding of why this person was the way he was. Now, we come back to work on Monday, maybe Monday, at 6:30 we have a vote or votes usually two, don’t mean anything.
Rep. Young (41:15):
And then we go home Thursday afternoon. Nobody knows anybody. I got 95 congressmen sleeping in their rooms, their offices. You see what I mean? We broke it down. There were no longer a cohesive governing body. And our job in Congress is to govern this nation, not the president’s. Yet we’ve gone into that job. We’re not doing our job and I don’t care what party it is. It’s the party that’s in control only listen to themselves. We’ll never govern. And can I change it? I’m trying, I’m trying to get earmarks back, I’m trying to get the chairmen back. I don’t know whether they’ll accept that cause they’re caught into that. But I wish they would because this nation is very important to me. And I think some lost sight of that. Anyway, I could go on about it.
Craig Volden (42:07):
So we talked to a number of members of Congress, they seem to have similar sort of dismay: things aren’t working the way they should. And yet they point to the party leaders, the party trying to accomplish something, branding and messaging. How have you seen the parties and their roles in Congress changing over your time there? And what does it mean for governance?
Rep. Young (42:37):
Well, you heard just what I said. I think it’s a disaster for the Congress that the parties play that role. I’m going to lecture the speaker when I swear her in, if she’s still in the majority, “you are the speaker for the House, not the party.” And that’s why, if you look at the definition of speaker is to be the speaker of the House, both sides. Now, I think it’s hurt us dramatically, you can have your own philosophy and but the party shouldn’t control the agenda and that’s what’s happening now badly. And again, we’re not governing nothing’s happened with any consequence. I’m working quietly trying to get things attached to bills and help my constituents. No one’s ever seen the work I’ve done that I don’t get credit for, but it’s there.
Rep. Young (43:20):
And I do that because it’s the only way I get things done. It helps my people now. Because there’s no policy within the governing body to jointly fix a problem. You know, I thought I passed the last good highway bill we’ve had for years because it was bi-partisan. Jim Oberstar was my ranking member. We never had an adversarial vote in that committee during the six years I served on it. Every time we came up, cause he and I had worked together, this is what we’d agreed to. He’d go to his members, I’d go to my members. Okay guys, this is what we’ve done. Let’s see what you say. We go in. And then we go to the floor and I had 75 votes. We got things done. Now that isn’t happening. Now we passed a transportation bills under Peter DeFazio. God bless him. He didn’t like the bill, but it was a Nancy Polosi Democrat (or socialist party right now. I don’t like to call them Democrats), but it was their philosophy of how the world should be. It wasn’t about transportation. And I think that it’ll never go anywhere. Again it’s not the bipartisan bill on transportation. There should be no partisanship. Period. It’s about roads, highways and bridges. And you know, now it’s all it’s fuel economy and emission control and climate change and all those things. They may be good issues, but don’t kill the transportation bill by putting policy and philosophy into the bill. You don’t solve a problem.
Alan E. Wiseman (44:49):
I mean, building on this point a little bit, but taking a slightly different direction. In terms of thinking about the ways in which Congress has changed over the years, it’s clear you’re able to illustrate how there’s much less strong personal relationships among members, both within parties and across parties. But I was also wondering what your perspective was on the members themselves and their level of expertise or interest in policymaking today. Once you put aside all the additional television or media opportunities, do you think the level of internal expertise has changed among members of Congress now compared to say 10, 20 years ago?
Rep. Young (45:27):
I would say this is one of the privileges I have. I don’t know if you follow me, but I am on the committee of committees. That’s the committee that chooses the slots that members of one will get on the committees. Now the reason I say that I don’t know how I got on that committee, I don’t know whether you followed that or not. We had a conference when we organized and we adopted the rules for our side and dadadada and I introduced an amendment that the Dean of the House would be on the committee of committees. Now keep that in mind. There’s only one Dean that’s me. But that’s not… and it was one of those classics I love because I got up and said, ‘this amendment is one of the most self-serving selfish amendments that’s ever been proposed to you.’ But they’re all talking and laughing, not paying attention.
Rep. Young (46:27):
And I gave my presentation why I thought it was necessary. I had been on the committee 22 years prior. So I knew a little bit about it, but this was a permanent seat. And Liz Cheney, who is a dear friend of mine, she said, ‘all in favor, say aye.’ Three or four said ‘aye.’ All in favor,? Nobody said, no. Bang. I’m on the committee. Now to me, that is fun. But I got on the committee. And what you asked me about the quality of people, and I am always impressed cause they have to come before us, the ones that want, ranking member, chairman whatever… And I’m amazed of the talent we do have in the Congress. There’s tremendously talented people in the Congress, in the areas which are represented. I’m happy to say we got a lot more doctors than we ever had. That’s important, big issue. We have a lot more military then when I first started. And now I am impressed. Now there’s one weakness. The job doesn’t pay very much. You may think it does, but my take home pay is about $7,000 a month. Everybody’s going, ‘that’s a lot of money.’ Well, okay. You try running two houses, et cetera. It’s not. And so we have an area now that are – a lot of the newer members of Congress are wealthy, inherited money or made a lot of money and retired or they’re right out of college. And the two sides are not good representatives. They may think they’re doing the job, but the one down here right out of college has no experience in any field at all. So they can just run around like little mice in a doggone cheese bin. Take a bite of everything and get full and… Nevermind.
Rep. Young (48:17):
But you know, then you have this group up here now that are elitist. They know what’s best for the common man. And if we don’t have that in between, people I think of the working class being in the Congress and that concerns me. Because that doesn’t make a good governing body and because they’re divided. So I’m trying to figure out how do we solve that? Cause you say, ‘we need a pay raise.’ Everybody goes crazy. Okay, well maybe give me a per diem. Somehow we have to make it a little more rewarding. And I want special interest in the Congress – that’s representation. But my do-good left wing bunch say, ‘Oh no, we can’t have a guy who’s got special interest or lady, she’s got a special interest.’ You know, what’s wrong with having a special interest? As long as people know it. Everybody knows I’m a mariner and I support the maritime industry big time because that’s my profession. I support the trappers. I’m a trapper, what’s wrong with that? They don’t want …that’s where they get these young kids right out of college, never did anything, because they can mold them, (them being the interest groups). So we have a challenge in United States. We want to keep this business going like we should, making the Congress the governing body.
Craig Volden (49:40):
You suggested a number of reforms that would help. And I’m curious, what do you think will happen with them? Which of them have chances to pass and how can we bring those reforms about
Rep. Young (49:52):
The one that can happen is the earmark concept. Because I am public about this and I go up, but you’d be surprised how many people say ‘ gee, I hope you win. We need the earmarks.’ Then I say, ‘well vote for it!’ and they sorta go, ‘Ooh, I can’t.’ And that goes back to you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing if you want to be successful. There’s other jobs than this job. And why they run from doing the right thing, I don’t know because it’s not politically popular. And I do think though, earmarks are now getting more momentum, I’ve talked to the other side now (they haven’t agreed with me). So I think we may have a chance to that. As far as changing the schedule, probably not. What we should do is be working five days a week, four weeks, and then 10 days off. That keeps us together. You have to bring your wife down then, which is good. Most of the people get in trouble in Congress because they don’t have their spouses with them. And I never made that mistake. But they do. I know this. So I think we have a chance, maybe to get the earmarks and really I’m working to make sure the chairmen have the authority to make and decide what legislation is heard and what comes before. Otherwise give the chairmen the power instead of the party speaker, because we’re not doing it now. And if everybody said ‘you’re not in the majority,’ Listen, I’ve been in the minority 22 years. I was in the majority for 12 years. I was a minority for four years and a majority for eight years. So I’ve been up and down. It didn’t make any difference. I still work. So when I hear people say, ‘well, you’re in a minority,… Okay, don’t count your chickens, or you’re going to be in that nest all the time.
Craig Volden (51:43):
What do you think is the chance of moving some power back to the committees?
Rep. Young (51:48):
Well, when I’m re-elected, if we take over, we’re going to pick up seats (we may not get enough that’s the problem). But if we ever get power again, whether I’m here or not, I’m going to leave a legacy behind. We’re going to make sure the speaker is a speaker of the House not the speaker for the party. But the chairmen of the majority run the Congress. And I think we’ve got a good chance of doing it. Cause I haven’t met a speaker, I mean, a chairman now who is happy, even on both sides of the aisle because they’re not able to do the job they should do. And the party is trying to be the spokesman for the United States. And as I said, there’s nothing a hundred percent Republican nor a hundred percent Democrat. There is no such thing. So I believe that there’s a good chance. I guarantee you: if we get elected this time, I’ll get up and I’ll come back and apologize to you but it will be different. We’re taking over. I’ve already told Kevin McCarthy and I’ve told Steve Scalise ‘you guys are going to do it my wayo r we’ve got a problem because I do have the truth behind me.’ It striked down, they don’t want to do anything, but they will be behind me.
Alan E. Wiseman (52:56):
I mean, looking ahead to these fall elections, then, I’m wondering if you could give some advice to newly elected members, especially those who want to engage in effective lawmaking, what advice would you offer them? What are some words of wisdom drawn from your own experience or observations you think would be most helpful?
Rep. Young (53:14):
Well, and this sounds kind of silly, but one thing I would do, when I first got sworn, hand and up Carl Albert, I sat down. You didn’t speak for six months. You were the freshmen, you stood, sat and listen and you made acquaintances with all the chairmen. I went around and introduced myself to every chairman. You know I went around and met Wilbur Mills, for instance, I had no duty to Ways and Means, but I went around and said, ‘I’m Congressman Young from Alaska.’ So I would say when you’re getting sworn in, shut up. Don’t talk for awhile. Listen, find out who the players are, both sides of the aisle. Make sure you introduce yourself to all the chairmen first and then go around and say, ‘hi, I’m Don Young and shake hands.’ That makes you a entity. I don’t care where you’re from Pennsylvania and New York. And I can say, don’t try to take and turn the world upside down the first six months. Take your time. Gain your respect and keep your word. That’s the most valuable thing you can do. And you do that, pretty soon you’ll be surprised. And I say, I’m very fortunate being the only member is very helpful. The other members try to have their own caucus. I think it’d be good.
Craig Volden (54:41):
Then when you make your case to your constituents, uh, hat you’re acting on their behalf, that you’re effective at what you do and so on many, many members of Congress try to make that case and sometimes constituents believe them and sometimes they don’t. How do you make that case? And what have you found for constituents? Do they believe you?
Rep. Young (55:05):
Well, this is my 25th election, so apparently I did something right. And the knock against me is my age. By the way, if I don’t get elected I may sue him for age discrimination. But this is a knock on me and cranky, maybe, I’m obnoxious sometimes. But you have to be a force in the Congress when you’re only one member. And no one steps on Alaska, without me letting them know you did something wrong. So you have to be very forceful and they know that. And I’m going to continue that type of make. And the second thing they have against me is I don’t have any clout anymore. Well, you know, you check the record, but even these last two years, if you check the record against all the other congressmen, I’ve done pretty good. And so that’s a knock on me and we’ll see what happens down the line. I’m sure.
Craig Volden (56:06):
Anything else that we didn’t ask you that you were wishing we would have today?
Rep. Young (56:12):
No, I, you know, thanks for doing this guys. I really strongly love the concept of our Constitution and the Congress of the United States. And I worry quite a bit about where it’s gone and where it’s headed. If we don’t change it, you lose your democracy and the Republic which we reside in. And I have people telling me, ‘Oh, it will never happen.’ I happen to be a little bit of a history buff, check every society around this globe for the last centuries and the failure of every one of them came within because people were misled. The governing body took away the rights of individuals and the freedom of individuals. And they collapsed. The Roman empire, I could go around, the Greek empire, and it all happened. And I’m just saying, be aware of this America and do a little studying and little history and be aware.
Rep. Young (57:13):
The governing body of our constitution is the United States Congress. Not the president. And that goes for every president. It started actually in 1935 with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I know we were in a terrible time and he came out with these grandiose ideas, WPA, CCC, the Tennessee Valley projects, all this, he put people to work and the Congress started receding power to the president because when it worked, they took credit for it. When it didn’t work, it was the president’s fault. And now I’ve seen accelerated, and I’ve been through it. A lot of these all the way back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I have watched this beginning of decay back then, I was, I didn’t watch, I was alive, but I didn’t know what was going on. And if we don’t recognize our job is that Congress is the governance, not the president. We have the purse strings. We should write policy. And he doesn’t like it regardless of who the president is, I don’t care, if he doesn’t like it, he has a right to veto. When’s the last time President Trump had ability to veto or when’s the last time Obama had ability to veto. It’s wrong because we’re being directed to what to do through the parties and the president. And I say, that’s dangerous if we want to retain our republic and our democracy. It probably won’t affect me too much. You know, I’m good. Well, I’m happy. I’m 87. I’ll be 88 in June. If I had another 10 years, I’d be real happy cause my wife wants me to live to be a hundred. I said, ‘you really don’t want to see be a hundred years old.’ But I worry about this country and we have everything going for us and we’re slowly letting it erode away and that’s not good.
Craig Volden (59:03):
Well, thank you overall for your public service and thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
Rep. Young (59:05):
My pleasure you guys had to put up with it, cause I just started talking about things I feel a lot about abnd I will give you the whole skinny.
Craig Volden (59:18):
Rep. Young (59:19):
Thank you. Really appreciate it. God bless you.