FAIRBANKS — Rep. Don Young is facing a challenge from state legislator Sharon Cissna for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat on Nov. 6, but the longtime congressman emphasized on Tuesday that he’s in no mood to step down.
During a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Young said he’ll run again for the seat — in 2014.
“You young guys have to wait in line,” he said with a smile.
Young, a Republican who has served nearly 40 years in the House, and Cissna, an Anchorage Democrat, talked about development, health care, the national debt and other topics during an hour-long forum at the Carlson Center.
Young said he’d use his experience in the House to make sure Alaska is well represented.
Young touted his ability to deliver funding for the Alaska Railroad and ferry system during a session when not much got done in Congress.
“Everyone knows Don Young — they might not like me, they may love me, but they respect me because I’m the congressman for all Alaska,” he said.
Cissna said she’d combine a focus on health issues with a “workaholic” approach to the job. She credited her decision to run to an ongoing battle with the Transportation Security Agency.
Cissna, who is a breast cancer survivor, said her surgical scars have led to invasive airport security scans — and her decision to avoid U.S. commercial flights in the future. TSA is one example of a government that has exceeded its constitutional reach, she said.
“How we treat our citizens is really of paramount importance,” she said.
The candidates didn’t clash during their amiable forum, but did present varying opinions on several topics.
When asked about the Affordable Care Act, often dubbed Obamacare, Young called the act “probably the worst piece of legislation I’ve ever encountered.” He said it’s still unclear what the 2,400-page law will do and said he’ll support efforts to defund it.
Cissna, who cited health care as one of her key issues, said Congress should work to improve the existing bill, since passing health care legislation can take years to accomplish. She didn’t outline any specific criticisms of the bill, but said it should be worked on rather than repealed.
“It’s got to be fixed,” she said.
Young said he’ll work to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency whose mission has “grown totally out of whack.” EPAs regulation of watersheds near the proposed Pebble Mine is a threat to state sovereignty, he said.
Cissna said the state is at least partly to blame, since it hasn’t created a long-term energy plan to convey to federal regulators and Congress.
Cissna repeatedly voted against resolutions to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling during her time in the Legislature, but said her opposition was based on a proposed revenue split that she felt was unfair to the state.
Young said the House has voted to open ANWR a dozen times during his tenure, and that he’d push for another vote. If President Clinton hadn’t vetoed one of those efforts, he said, that oil would be flowing through the pipeline today.
“It should be done,” he said.
Young said the deficit has been created by “two wars and unbridled spending,” but said budget cuts won’t be enough to solve the problem. He said the U.S. needs to embrace policies that focus on manufacturing and natural resources to return to prosperity.
“We’ve become a nation of consumers, not producers,” he said.
Cissna said Congress needs to focus on putting Americans to work instead of subsidizing work done overseas. She said Alaska’s economy and approach to development should be a model.
“Our role is to make sure the nation uses Alaska as the example of how it should be done,” she said.
Young said he’s in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts, saying that money needs to remain with taxpayers to boost the economy. Cissna said rich Americans should carry a larger portion of the tax load to strengthen the middle class.
Both candidates said they’re unhappy with No Child Left behind, the federal education law they believe is a poor fit for Alaska.
Cissna and Young also both said they’re frustrated by the inability of Congress to do much of anything in recent years. Cissna said it’s time for an overhaul of how the state and federal government are managed. Young placed much of the blame on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who hasn’t been able to unify his colleagues, he said.
“This is probably the worst Congress I’ve ever been in,” Young said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.