Don Young: No stranger to controversy

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), under fire Friday for describing Hispanic migrant workers as "wetbacks," is no stranger to controversy. The combative House veteran has been a frequent target of ethics watchdogs and has made his share of enemies.


Don Young has a history of political trouble. (Dan Joling/AP)

Here's a timeline of Young's brushes with infamy.

1994: During a congressional hearing, while arguing with then-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Mollie Beattie, Young brandished an 18-inch-long walrus penis bone and pounded it into his hand for emphasis.

1995: Speaking to a group of high school students, Young lamented that federal funds went to "photographs of people doing offensive things." He went on to use crude language to describe sexual acts portrayed in artist Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs. "I don't apologize. You're all adults, and if you have to ask the questions, I'm going to answer," he told offended students at the end of the class. But a few days later, Young did apologize to the school for his  "unacceptable" language.

2005: Young was publicly shamed for backing a "Bridge to Nowhere" -- a project made famous by then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin in the 2008 election. When pressured to give up those funds so they could be directed towards Hurricane Katrina relief, he said,  "They can kiss my ear."

2007: The Wall Street Journal reported that Young was under federal investigation for his ties to the oil and construction company VECO. It was the same year that Young threatened to bite a fellow Republican congressman "like the mink," for opposing one of his earmarks.

2008: A trove of documents are released linking Young to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Young had previously claimed that he "never had any personal or professional relationship with Abramoff." That same year, both chambers of Congress voted to ask the Department of Justice to investigate the a $10 million earmark Young inserted in a 2005 bill after it passed, funds that went to a road desired by a Florida campaign donor. The probe fizzled out in 2010; critics argued that a congressional ethics investigation would have been better.

2010: A former aide to Young was sentenced to 12 weekends in prison and four years of probation for passing tips and potential clients to Abramoff. That year Young described the BP oil spill as "not an environmental disaster" but "a natural phenomena."

2011: Young faced a House Ethics committee inquiry over donations to the legal expense fund he set up to deal with the DOJ investigation. That probe was closed later in the year, with investigators saying Young violated the principles but not the rule of the law. The committee changed ethics rules to close the loophole Young exploited.

2013: Just last week, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Young, using documents from the defunct FBI probe.

Through it all, Young has hung onto his House seat, the only one in Alaska. Other than a tough 2008 race that included a primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, Young has been untouchable; last fall he was reelected with 64 percent of the vote.

It's not clear whether this latest episode, which has brought scolding rebukes from many of Young's colleagues, will negatively impact his electoral appeal in the Last Frontier. But, if past is prologue it likely won't.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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Aaron Blake · March 29, 2013