Young speaks out on GOP race, gas taxes, drug policy
JUNEAU — Alaska’s lone delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives wrapped up a visit to Juneau on Tuesday, telling an audience at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall that he supports an increase in national and state gasoline taxes, is opposed to prison for drug users, and supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich to be the Republican nominee for president.
Don Young spoke to more than 120 people at the weekly Native Issues Forum hosted by the Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Young is in Alaska during a Congressional recess that lasts until April 12. He next travels to Sitka.
Before speaking, Young posed for selfies and cellphone photos with audience members who had to wait until the end of his remarks for his presidential choice.
“I’m not supporting Donald Trump. I’ve said that publicly. I am supporting Kasich because I think he’s the smartest one of the bunch,” Young said.
In office since 1973, Young has been in the House longer than any other sitting Republican. He has served under eight presidents and - barring a defeat this fall, will soon serve under a ninth.
“I’m not worried about the size of your hand or your wife’s looks or these other things. It’s silliness,” Young said of the furor surrounding Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
Young has a simple answer for why that furor exists.
“Who I do blame?. The people,” he said. “A bunch of idiots following Pied Piper over the cliff. That’s who I blame. I mean, nobody wants to read anymore. No one wants to find out the background anymore. And they blame Donald Trump. I blame the people.”
After an audience member asked about Young’s views on marijuana, Young responded that the voters of Alaska have decided, and as a backer of state rights, he supports Alaskans’ views.
“Either you’re for states’ rights or against them. You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
While he believes marijuana is addictive, he said alcohol is worse, and the state has legalized both.
He said he does not believe drug users should be jailed for their addictions, but he believes government should go after drug dealers, particularly heroin dealers, whom he said are murderers.
“It is probably the scourge of the United States,” he said of heroin.
When Central Council president Richard Peterson asked Young’s views on the federal government’s role in fighting that scourge, the Congressman responded that local communities need to take action.
Many times, particularly in small rural communities, residents know who the drug dealers are, but they are afraid to act, Young said.
“You can’t always expect somebody else to do it for you,” he said, adding that he supports the ability of local courts to punish offenders locally.
Young did not directly address Alaska’s $4 billion annual state deficit, following a pattern set by U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan during their in-state visits.
After a question regarding transportation funding, however, he did touch on one portion of the proposed solution, saying he supports the effort in the Alaska Legislature to raise the state motor fuels tax, but only if revenue from that tax is dedicated to transportation.
Article IX, Section 7 of the Alaska Constitution forbids dedicated funds, but Young said he thinks a determined Legislature can find a way to do it.
“I’ve suggested that respectfully,” he said. “You don’t believe you can do it, but I believe you can.”
Young has long supported raising the federal gasoline tax to keep pace with the rising efficiency of American cars.
In 2003, as chairman of the powerful House Transportation Committee, Young proposed raising the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 33 cents per gallon by 2009. The measure failed after opposition from President George W. Bush and others in Congress.
Young also referenced bills he has introduced in Congress to make more land available for resource development, something he views as a top priority.
“You’ve got to be able to harvest your trees, mine your minerals, drill for oil, grow your crops, catch your fish. Those are real dollars,” he said.
“The rest of it is frosting, and by the way, just putting frosting in a bowl is no good for anybody.”
James Brooks can be reached at [email protected].