As the midterm elections approach us, it’s often helpful to take a step back and ask a simple question: what do you look for in a representative? For most people, the answer is based on substantive issues: the policies, solutions and ideas that make our communities and country a better place to be. With a huge gap in the budget remaining, a persistent crime problem and opioid abuse, we should be looking for representatives that want to get the job done.
However, there’s a quality we often forsake when evaluating candidates for office. In a climate that is increasingly hostile to disagreement and nuance, it’s important that candidates that can bring together their communities for the common good. That means that equally as important as a candidate’s quality of platform is their respect for civility.
If the mark of a good candidate is their ability to respect differences in politics and unify their communities, I couldn’t think of a better election to turn our attention towards than the race for Alaska’s sole seat in the House of Representatives.
Don Young has occupied our seat in the House since 1973, making him the longest-serving House member in the chamber. He has survived almost every election challenge since then with no less than 55 percent of the vote. Young is responsible for the passage of a plethora of legislation throughout his tenure, earning him the title of most effective legislator multiple times.
Unfortunately, Don Young is far more well-known for saying and doing awful things all the time. Young’s unvarnished gaffes go back decades. During a congressional hearing in 1994, Young got into a confrontation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie. Young waved an 18-inch oosik — a penis bone from a walrus — and pounded it into his hands to emphasize a point he was making.
Young’s outlandish behavior has been well-known to his colleagues and constituents alike for decades, but his most famous statements have come in just the last decade. In 2005, after funds for Young’s famous “Bridge to Nowhere” were redirected elsewhere, he told critics of his project to “kiss my ear.” In 2011, he got into a yelling match with Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley during a congressional hearing over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where he referred to his testimony as “garbage.”
In a radio interview in 2013, he referred to Hispanic immigrants who picked tomatoes on his father’s farm as “wetbacks.” A year later, Young traumatized students mourning the death of a student who had just committed suicide. Speaking at a high school assembly, he blamed the suicide on the student’s “lack of support” from his family and friends and continued to make offensive remarks about victims of suicide. He even made jokes about bulls having sex to illustrate a point about same-sex marriage.
The same year, Young’s spokesman had to walk back comments Young made towards his Democratic opponent, Forrest Dunbar. According to Dunbar, Don Young “snarled” at him before a debate and said “‘Don’t you ever touch me. Don’t ever touch me. The last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead.”
Those who defend Young often say that his words are harmless and that he’s a good legislator anyways. The problem with this is two-fold. It ignores Young’s unconcern for getting along with those who oppose him and the fact that he only legislates for his constituents. There are tens of thousands of Alaskans who vote for the other guy every year, and his indignant behavior suggests he isn’t willing to hear them out any time soon.
Luckily, there’s a candidate running against Don Young who offers a stark and refreshing contrast to his tired incumbency. Alyse Galvin, a lifelong Alaskan and strong advocate for public education, is the embodiment of the civility and discourse Alaskans — and the country, for that matter — are in dire need of.
Anyone who talks to Galvin can attest to her unique ability to construct meaningful dialogue with those around her. Not only does she stick to the issues, but she also engages voters in good faith. For however long you converse with her, she has one priority and one priority only: you.
To be sure, Alyse Galvin’s dedication to unity is equally matched to her meaningful policy solutions. Her plan to address the opioid crisis, improve energy efficiency in rural Alaska and improve education standards across the country are a stark contrast to Young’s platform, which currently features an empty “Issues” section on his campaign website.
Problem solving requires diverse input and a willingness to hear the other side. Don Young has consistently proven he’s unwilling to offer anything but his brutish, contemptuous version of politics. It’s time to give him the boot.