Rep. Don Young stuns high school students with suicide comments

Jordan Fabian
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Alaska Rep. Don Young has stuck his foot in his mouth again.

The Republican congressman reportedly told a group of high school students on Tuesday that suicide is the result of a lack of support from family and friends. Young made his remarks at Wasilla High School, where a student took his own life last Thursday, according to the Alaska Dispatch.


A teacher asked Young, 81, about Alaska's high suicide rate and what his office is doing about it. The congressman mentioned the role alcohol and depression play in suicide, but then said such an act shows the absence of support from the victims' family and friends.

"When I heard 'a lack of support from family' and I heard 'a lack of support from friends,' I felt the oxygen go out of the room, but I gasped as well," Wasilla High School Principal Amy Spargo told the Dispatch. "It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."


One student challenged Young and an exchange ensued. At one point, the congressman used the term '"a—hole” or “smartass," the Dispatch reported.

Young spokesman Matt Shuckerow said in a statement to the news site that the congressman was "very serious and forthcoming" in discussing suicide.


"He discussed what he believes are leading causes of youth suicide in our state and shared some suggestions for helping family members and friends who are dealing with suicidal thoughts,” Shuckerow said. “In no way did Congressman Young mean to upset anyone with his well-intentioned message. In light of the tragic events affecting the Wasilla High School community, he should have taken a much more sensitive approach.”

Young also recounted flying to Paris to get drunk and used a crude analogy when asked about same-sex marriage, the Dispatch reported.


According to Spargo, Young answered, “You can’t have marriage with two men. What do you get with two bulls?”

This is not the first time that the controversial congressman has come under fire for bad behavior.


Last year, Young used a racial slur to refer to Latino workers employed on his father's ranch. It's not just his mouth that's gotten him in trouble. In 1988, he allegedly brandished a knife on the House floor after a Democratic lawmaker offered a bill that would have restricted Alaskan logging. He also waved an 18-inch walrus penis bone during a 1994 committee hearing where then-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Mollie Beattie testified on limiting walrus hunting.

He has also faced multiple federal and ethics investigations into improper use of campaign funds and his ties to an Alaskan energy firm.


Despite the controversies, Young has remained popular in Alaska for his ability to secure federal funds for the state. He has served in the House for 21 terms, beginning with his special election victory in 1973.

Young is expected to cruise to reelection this year. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates his district solid Republican.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

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