Alaska Rep. Don Young skips president’s visit

Don Young. (Official photo)
Don Young. (Official photo)

Alaskans of all stripes came out this week for a chance to shake hands with President Barack Obama, or at least glimpse his motorcade, but one person not on hand for the big visit was Don Young, Alaska’s only member of the U.S. House of representatives.

“Congressman Young traditionally spends the end of August in his hometown of Fort Yukon, and that’s what he did this year,” said Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow.

Young is still in Fort Yukon and, according to his spokesman, not easily reached by phone. But Young did follow what the president said while he was here, and Shuckerow says he wasn’t entirely disappointed.

“There were some things that Congressman Young was encouraged to see, that was focused on a wider range of Arctic issues. Arctic infrastructure, icebreakers, deepwater ports — these are things that Congressman Young and others in the delegation have been fighting for for years. It certainly is important to bring attention to them.”

Many Alaskans seemed charmed that the president embraced Alaskan symbols — from sled dog puppies to salmon to Native dancing. Young, a Republican in office since Obama was in elementary school, retains his pre-trip skepticism. Shuckerow says his boss was dismayed the president used the state as the backdrop for his climate agenda.

“The big thing that Congressman Young said was that the president just fundamentally doesn’t understand one of Alaska’s major, most basic barriers, and that is the federal government and some of its out-of-touch federal policies coming from our agencies,” Shuckerow said.

Alaska’s two U.S. senators are taking family time and were not available for interviews today. Sen. Dan Sullivan was the first person to greet Obama when he first arrived at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. It was a prolonged handshake. Sullivan’s spokesman says he was urging Obama to review the Army’s plan to cut troops from the base. Sullivan was also spotted at the GLACIER conference when Obama spoke.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski participated in an hour-long meeting with the president, a roundtable with Native leaders, but she said Monday she was worried he wasn’t hearing enough from Alaskans.

Both senators issued statements thanking Obama for the Denali name change.

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