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Alaska Rep. Don Young apologizes for racial slur

By Jim Abrams

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:18 p.m. HST, Mar 29, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Rep. Don Young, the gruff Republican veteran who represents the entire state of Alaska, apologized today for referring to Hispanic migrant workers as "wetbacks" in a radio interview.

"I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska," Young said in a statement after lawmakers from both political parties called on him to apologize.

"There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words," Young said. "That word, and the negative attitudes that come with it, should be left in the 20th century, and I'm sorry that this has shifted our focus away from comprehensive immigration reform."

The 79-year-old Young, the second-most senior Republican in the House, issued a statement late Thursday seeking to explain his remark after using the derogatory term to describe the workers on his father's farm in central California, where he grew up.

Young, discussing the labor market during an interview with radio station KRBD in Ketchikan, said that on his father's ranch, "we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes." He said, "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It's all done by machine."

"Wetbacks" often refers to Mexican migrants who have entered the country illegally, and Hispanics consider the word, which can be used to disparage all Hispanics, to be highly pejorative.

Young's explanation on Thursday wasn't good enough for lawmakers from either political party. His use of the word drew swift criticism from fellow Republicans working to temper the party's hardline positions on illegal immigrants and to improve GOP standing among Hispanic voters.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Young's remarks were "offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds." Boehner said he didn't care why Young said it; "there's no excuse, and it warrants an immediate apology."

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the party offers a "beacon of hope" for those seeking liberty around the world and that Young's remarks "emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party."

"Shame on Don Young," said Congressional Hispanic Caucus chairman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. "It is deeply disheartening that in 2013, we are forced to have a discussion about a member of Congress using such hateful words and racial slurs."

Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, an online Latino advocacy organization, said Young should resign.

In his statement on Thursday, Young said he had "used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect."

He added that during the interview, he had "discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship" and said the country must tackle the issue of immigration reform.

Among his jobs before entering politics were teaching school to indigenous Alaskans and working as a tugboat captain in the Yukon. Since entering Congress in 1973, Young has been known for his hot temper, his salty language and his independent streak.

As resources committee chairman in the late 1990s, he took on environmentalists and the Bill Clinton administration in pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and logging in Alaska national forests. He headed the transportation committee during much of the George W. Bush administration, during which he defied his own party's anti-tax positions by supporting an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for bridge and highway construction.

It was under Young's chairmanship that the "bridge to nowhere," which was actually two proposed Alaska construction projects, became a symbol for questionable special projects inserted into spending bills.

He also is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which is looking into whether he failed to report gifts on his annual disclosure forms, misused campaign funds and lied to federal officials. The investigation comes from an earlier Justice Department probe into whether Young accepted gifts in return for political patronage. Young has said that Justice cleared him of those charges.

"I've been under a cloud all my life," he told reporters in Juneau Thursday. "It's sort of like living in Juneau. It rains on you all the time. You don't even notice it."

Young said he plans to run for re-election next year, saying he doesn't know anyone who can do a better job than he does in representing the state.


Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.

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NanakuliBoss wrote:
Stupid Republicans. They have some dummies up there like Palin. Never graduated from college.
on March 29,2013 | 03:35AM
gary360 wrote:
Not worth commenting.
on March 29,2013 | 03:40AM
inverse wrote:
Wasn't Rod Tam, who publicly used the same term, a Democrat? I definitely know Fay Hano hano IS a Democrat and used even more offensive racial slurs and her fellow Democrats are silent in speaking out against Hano hano. Clean you own house FIRST before criticizng others.
on March 29,2013 | 03:49AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
You are correct. And most recently Hanohano. Both are dems.
on March 29,2013 | 07:02AM
allie wrote:
Hamahano is hardly a typical Democrat. She hates America and Hawaii. She is a party of one.
on March 29,2013 | 07:46AM
kalai wrote:
you hate Hawaii so go back to north dakota
on March 29,2013 | 11:03AM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
ALL-LIE ignorant as ever. Rep Young's comments sound awfully like comments made by Al Sharpton, Diane Watson (CA state senator) or how about Geraldine Ferraro "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position" All upstanding Deomcrats. Racism is exclusive to neither party.
on March 29,2013 | 06:08PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Before pointing out the speck in another's eye take care of the log in yours.
on March 29,2013 | 07:05AM
allie wrote:
Young simply revealed what republicans, who hate America, really feel about the 99% of us who are not rich, white and stupid.
on March 29,2013 | 07:58AM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
I am not rich, but I resent being grouped with the "99%". I don't collect welfare nor use EBT. I am a college graduate and work. Along with my wife, we provide a good life for our kids. So please in the future, do not put me in the same group as the lazy, no motivation, non-contributors to society type o people.
on March 29,2013 | 01:39PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
ALL-LIE aka resident fountain of ignorance (allie YIKES= yes I knowingly exude ignorance) . Obviously you've been spending too much time with your head stuck in a place it was never meant to be. Racism has NEVER been the exclusive domain of either party. Racism is a card that Democrats like to play and have a vested interest in perpetuating, had it been one of the many racist Dems that made such a remark, it would not have made the news.
on March 29,2013 | 06:21PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
also ALL-LIE though you may not be rich and white, you should NOT include yourself among those who are not stupid.
on March 29,2013 | 06:58PM
thepartyfirst wrote:
Exactly what is a "wet back?"
on March 29,2013 | 01:02PM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Republicans are the first one to cut "entitlements" but Alaska is sucking on the biggest nipple when it comes to this. Why should mineral or oil rights be exclusive to the Alaskans? Native Americans up there suffer because the " white" influence the way they live. Sort of like , ahhhhhh, in the aina.
on March 29,2013 | 01:34PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
Nanakuli - "the white influence the way they live"? Here, in Alaska, on the mainland immigrants come to this country dirt poor and within a generation many or able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Yet we have people in this country who are content to complain about being "disadvantaged" for generations. Is it "entitlements"? No, Native Americans have access to much more resources than those uneducated immigrants do. So what are those who succeed doing right and what are the others doing wrong? Looks like those succeed WORK for a better future, those that fail are busy making excuses and pining for the "old days"...Folks who live in the past have no future.
on March 29,2013 | 06:37PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
Nanakuli and we have Hanohano. As long as there are people there will be no shortage of idiots, right?
on March 29,2013 | 05:49PM
serious wrote:
In this liberal media!!!--hey, wet backs is a common word along the border. No disgrace--just the way it is.
on March 29,2013 | 06:48AM
cojef wrote:
You may be right, but it still has a demeaning ring when referring to an ethnic people, since they primarily are hired to do the most menial jobs in California, and where other ethnics would prefer not to be engaged in these jobs. It is easier to say Latin American or just plain Mexican laborers.!
on March 29,2013 | 07:06AM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
"they primarily are hired to do the most menial jobs" don't know about you but that sounds like alot of our great-grandparents or grandparents. For those that just want to find an honest job and a better life, why would you degrade them. How many of us would like our grandparents referred to in that manner (though they undoubtedly were, human nature being what it is)?
on March 29,2013 | 07:42PM
hanalei395 wrote:
One of the orders from the GOP...Republicans were told to get the wetback votes for 2014. But, actually calling them "wetbacks", is not the way to do it.
on March 29,2013 | 07:18AM
entrkn wrote:
Sounds like a typical Republican comment to me. The real question is whether the Republican party has any relevance in America any more...
on March 29,2013 | 07:41AM
allie wrote:
tea party has disgraced a once proud party.
on March 29,2013 | 07:47AM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
actually ALL-LIE it is you that disgraces native Americans with every word you utter.
on March 29,2013 | 08:00PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
entrkn wrote: Sounds like a typical Republican comment to me.

I thought Rep Faye Hanohano was democrat.
on March 29,2013 | 09:02AM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
entrkn actually this republican sounds more like an upstanding democrat like Al Sharpton. The repubs are as relevant as the dems they both serve one purpose...preservation of the party regardless of the impact on the average american.
on March 29,2013 | 07:57PM
Mythman wrote:
Try to remember, folks, that language is itself a symbolic medium - it is a system of signs that represent commerce between entities - it is not the thing itself it is signing or symbolizing or representing, no more than a sign in Chinatown advertising "Lychee" is actually a lychee object itself. Words are not the things the reference so it is crazy to punish someone for using a word considered "incorrect" by someone else. And by the way, anyone who refers to me as a "white guy" is noticing my race but it's ok because I am not a minority, yet.
on March 29,2013 | 07:52AM
kahuku01 wrote:
This is a bunch of nonsense when people start to criticize a person because of his or her shortcoming and ignorance based on they're political party, color, creed or origin. Rep Young knows better than to use those words unless he's uneducated or a racist. Whether his dad called them by those words when he was young shouldn't be used as an excuse because today people are aware of what words or phrases are taboo and for a congressman to be using those words are unbecoming and plain ignorant. There is no reason why the people of Alaska or the US should have to put up with these type of racist individuals especially having been elected to congress. This individual (republican, democrat or independent) should never be reelected for another term and this a reflection of the type of people that represent Alaska. Plain ole racist and the ones we try to ignore from our society.
on March 29,2013 | 08:40AM
Kate53 wrote:
Meant no disrespect? Of course he meant to disrespect them, otherwise he would have just referred to them as "Hispanic migrant workers". Name calling is disrespectful and Young is way old enough to know better.
on March 29,2013 | 10:29AM
daniwitz13 wrote:
We all have a right to disagree. If you believe this, then he has a Right to disagree with you and say what he wants. Who are you to say that others are limited to what you think is Right? Why do we invent 'words' if not to be used. All 'words' convey a meaning and describes the event. He was for one referring to the era of the time. They used the 'word' then and going back in time to the event, is Right to use that 'word'. What one thinks is Right, does not mean that others do. To me free Speech is being able to say what one wants and not what others say one can't. It is normal and natural for the affected to want the 'word' banned, but that does not mean it should. What then IS Freedom of Speech otherwise. Pity.
on March 29,2013 | 12:03PM
kahuku01 wrote:
IRT daniwitz13: I agree that we have a right to disagree and also a right to voice our opinion. Like you've mentioned, all words convey a meaning and may also describe a specific group of people. He was referring to the era of his younger days and his dad used the word than and going back in time to the event. Today there are specific words that were used during that time and are not acceptable to be used during this era like the N or J words. Free speech is being able to voice your opinion and at the same time not having a shamming or degrading effect towards a person or group of people especially if a person holds a position in congress.
on March 29,2013 | 04:05PM
BRock wrote:
Nothing in this story that needs to concern people in Hawaii.
on March 29,2013 | 11:40AM
turbolink wrote:
Tell that to Sen Hirono who touted his endorsement in her recent campaign.
on March 29,2013 | 06:10PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
more and more Hirono reminds me of ALL-LIE... dumber, lazier and more useless than one person should be allowed to be.
on March 29,2013 | 06:54PM
turbolink wrote:
But she has that collaborative style!
on March 29,2013 | 07:16PM
cunfuzd4 wrote:
meaning that she's like a blister...she always shows up AFTER the work is done?
on March 29,2013 | 07:44PM
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