Alaska's Young may have met his match in backlash over slur, ethics probe

Rep. Don Young is a survivor. But he may have met his match.

He’s beaten back six years worth of federal investigations, 40 years of unsuccessful Republican challengers, and one of the most expensive and highly criticized earmarks.

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But now the 21-term Alaska Republican is facing a freshly launched Ethics investigation and perhaps his biggest hurdle of all: his own mouth.

On Friday, Young came under heavy fire from Republicans and Democrats for using a racial slur to refer to hired laborers who were once employed at his father’s ranch. Young used the term "wetbacks" to describe the laborers.

GOP leaders immediately distanced themselves from the veteran lawmaker, who has not always had a pleasant relationship with his own party, saying that he should apologize without delay.


Young did apologize, twice.

But the political heat came less than 10 days after the House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Young on charges that he may have violated the chamber’s rules.

Republican strategist and former GOP leadership aide Ron Bonjean said the ethics probe, combined with his insensitive comments, is not likely to be Young’s downfall. But Young can’t afford to make any more mistakes or cause any further headaches for party leaders, Bonjean said.

“Unless his district support implodes around him, Rep. Don Young will likely survive this event because he apologized pretty quickly,” Bonjean said. 

“However, he can't afford to make more mistakes. The Republican leadership was right to distance themselves from his comments, but would likely remain out of the ethics investigation until it comes to a conclusion.”

The ethics panel has been probing various allegations against Young over the past two Congresses, moving to clear him of wrongdoing on one set of charges in 2011.

The committee said that Young technically didn’t violate ethics rules when his legal expense fund accepted 12 separate $5,000 donations from companies that were affiliated with one another. No one individual or company is allowed to give more than $5,000 to a member’s legal fund in a calendar year. But the panel used the opportunity to update the House ethics rules to prohibit lawmakers from doing the same thing in the future.

Last week, the committee announced it had launched an investigative subcommittee to formally probe allegations against Young that were raised in the Justice Department’s four-year investigation of the lawmaker. The DOJ ultimately cleared Young after investigating whether he took bribes or failed to report gifts from an Alaska company tied to the Jack Abramoff scandal.

The ethics panel has launched a separate investigation using some of the documents the DOJ unearthed.

“During the course of the committee’s investigation, a portion of which was initially requested by Representative Young, the committee received a referral from the Department of Justice regarding Representative Young’s expenses and travel costs for certain trips which were the subject of the committee’s ongoing review,” it stated last week.

The ethics probe is expected to take several months, at the very least, to complete and could drag on into next year, which could prove to be an ongoing headache for Republicans.

But Young is no stranger to the spotlight of scrutiny and so long as he doesn’t offend any one else, he may be able to survive the episode unscathed. Much will likely depend on the Ethics Committee’s verdict.

Young’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.