Young, Credited With Effectiveness, Says Personality is Part of his M.O.

Alaska Congressman Don Young was sworn in today for his 22nd term. He’s starting the term a week later than his peers, having missed the main swearing-in last week due to the death of his brother.  But he’s ready to drop a passel of bills

Download Audio

“We will be introducing a whole bunch ’em …. ANWR of course,” He said today, looking over his list. “Niblack and Bokan mountain area, Kiln drying bill, Alexander Creek recognition bill — we’re going to move that finally —  Alaska Native migratory bill, (and the)  Alaska national archives bill, Alaska Native Corporations conservation easement bill.”

If the past is any guide, he stands a better than average change of getting his bills to move through Congress.  In a new book by two political science professors, the Alaska Congressman is held up as one of the most able Republicans in House of Representatives.

“The reason we wrote him up in the book and list him among our top 20 representatives over the last 40 years, is that he keeps coming up in the top 10 in his party,” says Craig Volden, of the University of Virginia. He and co-Author Alan Wiseman wrote “Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress.” They analyzed all of the House bills introduced from 1973 through 2012 to gauge the legislative effectiveness of each member.

“So we traced what did they sponsor, how far did it move through the process, how was it reported on, what did they say about why they were pursuing the legislative strategies that they were, and so on,” Volden said.

He says Young scored highly year after year. He was 11th in his freshman term, out of nearly 200 Republicans. Eight times, according to their formula, Young was the No. 1 most effective Republican. When he chaired the House Natural Resources Committee Young was really at the top of his game, Prof. Volden says, even when compared to other chairmen.

“We traced all of the chairs of that committee and he was right on there with Mo Udall who famously ran that committee for more than a decade,” he said. “Committee chairs, we find, are effective for a variety of reasons. Some are effective because they draw attention to new issues or they reach across party lines and it seemed that in that position Rep. Young used both of those sets of skills.”

And yet, these aren’t the qualities that typically earn Young national headlines. He’s better known for his feistiness and for making brash remarks he sometimes has to apologize for. Even the animal heads in his office have drawn more attention than his legislative effectiveness. Professor Volden says these qualities weren’t part of the research. He credits Young’s specialization. In the book, Volden describes Young’s legislative strategy as “All Alaska, all the time.”

Zack Fields, spokesman for the Alaska Democratic Party, says it’s not so impressive that Young specializes in Alaska.

“You’d certainly hope that he would since he’s the only Alaska member” Fields said.

Fields knocks the study’s methodology because it only looks at bills a member sponsors, so it doesn’t take into account other ways members exhibit their effectiveness, such as by convincing their colleagues to tuck a bill into must-pass legislation. Very few stand-alone bills pass these days, so Fields says it’s not a good measure of effectiveness.

Young says he’s not surprised by his high rankings, because he’s been keeping track, too. And he says if that’s not what he’s known for — well, that’s all part of his M.O.

“It is something I’ve used all my life, that I try not to appear — and it’s not hard to do — very bright. It throws people a little bit off,” he said.

Young says to achieve what he’s elected to do, he uses every wily tactic he can.


View ratings data here.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

Previous articleLonnie Dupre Becomes First Ever January Denali Soloist
Next articleState Transportation Commissioner Steps Down