Donny, we hardly knew ye

Published July 1, 2000

As a child growing up in a big Irish family, I attended many a wake. Without fail, someone would comment of the dearly departed–call him Danny–“Danny, we hardly knew ye.” No matter how long or how well we know someone, we can never know them as well or as completely as we might like.

Obviously, this would be true of many political figures.

It is particularly true of a “Donny”–Don Young, Alaska’s formerly conservative Republican representative, and now the driving force behind the most extensive federal land-grab legislation is history.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, Young’s Conservation and Reinvestment Act, shepherded through the House with favors and pork for all, would spend $42 billion over 15 years– much of the money going to government acquisition of private lands.

Could it have been the same Don Young who told Alaska Public Radio (APR) on February 14, 1996, “I don’t believe government, unless it’s a communist government, should own lands.”

Does Young now believe America is a communist country? Or did he just change his mind about government land ownership? Or perhaps he never really believed what he said in 1996?

A few months later, on August 19, 1996, Young told APR, “They (environmentalists) are a socialist group of individuals that are the tool of the Democratic Party. That’s all they are, always have been. I’m proud to say that they are my enemy. They are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans.”

And now Young is “sleeping with the enemy.”

His CARA will send tax dollars to environmental groups for buying land and conservation easements. Although the country’s 10 biggest environmental groups already raise over $1 billion a year and could easily buy land with their own money, Young wants to free them of that burden by donating to them your tax dollars. This is suspiciously like the socialism Young used to accuse environmentalists of practicing.

It is also clear that few really understood Young when he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in July 1998 that his more moderate Republican colleagues “are, very frankly, spineless individuals.” Many of us assumed Young meant his colleagues were too easily influenced in ways that did not suit him.

Now it seems that the remark–made when Young was just beginning work on CARA–may have foreshadowed his intention to roll many of his colleagues with favors and pork. CARA declares the Great Lakes oceans, thereby making more money available to his “moderate” Midwestern colleagues.

And then there was Young’s 1995 declaration in Sierra Magazine, to those want to take over private land: “I’m the one that’s in charge now. [Environmentalists] are going to have to compromise. If not, I’m going to ram it down their throats.”

Who knew that just five years later, Young would be ramming down their throats the power to buy up and wall off private lands, plus the money to make it happen . . . a $42 billion 15-year spending stream over which the executive branch, not Congress, has complete control.

Once upon a time, Don Young not only talked tough in defense of property rights, individual freedoms, and the ability of individuals to best care for the environment– he voted that way, too. Young once supported those who believed in smaller government and local control. They thought him an ally. Many must now be saying to themselves:

“Donny, we hardly knew ye.”

Note: CARA companion bills are now moving through the Senate. Majority leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) is strongly in favor of CARA and is giving his full support to passing a Senate version. Thought you’d like to know.