Rep. Don Young gave a 10-minute presentation and answered questions during a special Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch on Friday.
Alaska’s only congressman in the House of Representatives stuck with his tradition, and started off by announcing that he’s running for re-election. Young was just re-elected to the seat he’s held since 1973, and he is the longest-serving seated member of Congress.
And, he said to a hearty round of applause, “Last month, I became the longest serving Republican in the House of Congress in history. I have to add these up. I love the applause.”
Young’s unprepared remarks to the chamber were short, as usual, and then he opened up the floor for questions.
Business owner Terry Wanzer asked about fixing federal health insurance regulations to allow for more insurance pools. Pools would reduce insurance premium costs for small business owners with few employees.
Young said that’s something he hopes to include in a health care package to amend the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. He said repealing the ACA is not likely.
“You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube once you squeeze it out. Reality. Think about it,” he said. “And so, there’s going to be some additions, I would call improvements to the bill, because a lot of areas it does work.”
Ed Zastrow told Young that he believes people should pay for their own health care, and not ask others to contribute. Young said he, too, disagrees with calls for universal health care.
“I’ve always wondered why you have to pay for someone that’s drinking a fifth of whiskey a day and smoked a pack of cigarettes for his liver and his lung problems,” he said. “There’s gotta be a certain responsibility somewhere here. I don’t know how to do it, but there has to be. Because it’s not fair nor right for people that have taken care of themselves.”
Janalee Gage spoke up for people who are injured or ill through no fault of their own. She said she would like to see the government crack down on health insurance companies that continually increase premiums.
Young responded that he’s not sure what the solution to health care is, but he would like to see more billing transparency from health care providers.
Doug Ward asked about federal funding for new state ferries. Young said the state has to ask, but he’ll make sure money for ferries will be available.
Young added that there likely will be a retraction of ferry service, but he expects Southeast will continue to have some kind of marine highway system.
“I was there when they started the ferry system. It was started for a reason. It was for a Southeast highway. It was never meant to go to Dutch Harbor, or other areas,” he said. “It expanded beyond the original intent, and it was Southeast. So, there may be some contraction, but I think you’re pretty safe of having the ferry system in Southeast for as long as you’re here.”
The state is currently going through its budget process, and the governor’s proposed budget severely cuts funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
There was some discussion about marijuana. Young noted that he’s part of the Cannabis Caucus, even though he’s never used marijuana. He said he believes in state’s rights, and since it’s legal in Alaska, he’s working on legislation to help the industry by relaxing federal regulations.
Renee Schofield of Tongass Substance Screening objected to that. She said not enough is known about marijuana’s effects and she doesn’t want regulations relaxed until it’s been better studied.
Young said his responsibility is to the majority of Alaska’s voters who approved legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I’m not going to say no and back off of the cannabis deal right now because the state voted for it,” he said. “If you don’t believe in state’s rights, don’t talk to me.”
Jackie Durette of the Alaska Forest Association asked about the federal Roadless Rule. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service started a process to tailor a Roadless Rule for Alaska, specifically.
Young said that is progressing.