Office Space: An Alaska State of Mind

Posted October 29, 2008 at 4:11pm

Visiting the office of Alaska Rep. Don Young is not for the tender-hearted, animal-loving PETA sort of constituent.

The third-longest-serving Republican Congressman has decorated his office in the Rayburn House Office Building with

more than three dozen animal heads and antlers, three skins and even the “male appendage” of a walrus, as he calls it.

The first thing visitors see as they enter Young’s office is a large bearskin hanging behind the reception desk, taken from a bear Young says he shot in 1964. “With a BB gun,” he jokes. That bearskin is part of a larger collection in Young’s personal office that includes 28 animal heads and mounted antlers — all shot by Young himself. “I strangled each one,” he says, deadpan. A wolf skin with the head still on it hangs above a doorway, while a zebra skin is spread across a couch. [IMGCAP(1)]

Situated among the heads that hang over Young’s desk are several guns. One, Young says, is for shooting seals. In fact, Young brags that the gun is responsible for killing 1,500 seals. Harbor, ice and northern fur seals can all be found in Alaska. They are often hunted for their meat and hides, much to the chagrin of animal activists.

In another room — called the “Africa Room” by Young and his staff — nine more heads hang. While 37 heads may seem like a lot, Young admits he doesn’t hang all of his kill — “just the ones that are worth mounting.”

“The reason I have them here is the high ceilings and they’re out of people’s way,” he explains. “You can’t mount a head when it’s eye level or a little above. It’ll put your eye out, so you have to have big, high ceilings.”

One thing you won’t see hanging on the walls are fish. While other Members, such as Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), display their prize fish catches in their offices, Young doesn’t believe in mounting fish. “I like to eat them, but they’re not trophies,” he says.

There’s another kind of trophy hanging on Young’s office walls: photos of himself with six of the seven past presidents Young has served under. In each photo he is shown with the commander in chief, often mugging for the camera. The only missing president is Jimmy Carter.

“He’s the most incompetent of all the presidents I’ve served under,” he says.

Young was elected in a special election in 1973, late in President Richard Nixon’s term and served during the administration of President Gerald Ford in 1974. A photo of the two with a handful of others and a letter from the former president commemorate their work together.

“If you look at it real closely, the interesting thing in that picture is that there are only three people still alive,” he says. “They are myself and Sen. [Ted] Stevens [R-Alaska] and [former Alaska Democratic Sen.] Mike Gravel. I don’t know what that means, but there’s a lot of history in this room.”

These are not the only mementos from Young’s home state to decorate the office. To the left of his large desk sits a set of gloves covered in intricate beadwork. The gloves were made by the Athabascan tribe, which inhabits an area near Young’s home in Fort Yukon.

“You would wear these if you were driving dog sleds,” he says, slipping the gloves on his hand. “The Athabascans are probably the best bead workers in the world.”

Young pays homage to Alaska’s oil wealth by displaying a piece of the pipeline in his personal office. The section of the pipe is some three feet in diameter.

“That used to be in the hall until your Speaker got Puritan and nothing could be in the hall because it might impede the flow of traffic in case there is an emergency,” he complains. “That delivered 17 billion barrels of oil to the United States.”

Young also has a newspaper clipping from the Anchorage Daily News hanging on the wall. It features a 1994 story about former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, who won his race against Jim Campbell by a margin of 0.3 points. That’s certainly something Young can relate to.

“You know, I just won a race by 300 and some odd votes,” he says with a smile, referring to the September primary where he won by a mere 304 votes.

And currently, Young is behind by 8 points in the polls in his race to retain the seat he’s held since 1973. The question is, what will happen to all the animals if he loses?

“That’s a big problem,” Young admits.

Do you know of a uniquely decorated Capitol Hill office? Let us know about it at officespace@rollcall.com.