Rep. Don Young was the oldest member of Congress, the longest-serving member in Congress, and the longest-serving Republican congressional representative in history.
Though he was born in California, Young moved to Alaska shortly after it became a state. Having lived through that transition, he knew what a difference statehood makes for a territory.
Supporting Puerto Rico
Young was always a friend to Puerto Rico, voting for a range of bills that promised support for the Island. More importantly, he supported statehood for Puerto Rico.
“My goal here is to really try to allow Puerto Rico to advance. And I do not believe you can advance as a commonwealth. I say that from my heart. Because we [Alaska] were not able to advance as a commonwealth. We were a territory,” he said in 2007. “My ultimate goal is to try to give the Puerto Rican people a choice. And my bill, H.R. 900, does give them a choice. And if they decide to be an independent nation, God bless you. If you decide to be a state, God bless you. If you decide to be a commonwealth, you are not going to grow.”
In 2022, we can see that Rep. Young was correct. Puerto Rico is beginning to turn its economy around, but still is far behind every state, with a poverty rate more than twice as high as that of the poorest state.
Young introduced a status resolution bill in 1997 which passed the House in 1998 but did not pass in the Senate. It was followed in December of 1998 by a plebiscite in Puerto Rico which resulted in a plurality of votes for “None of the above.”
Young responded with frustration, saying in an official report that the vote was “inconclusive” and calling on Congress to continue working to resolve Puerto Rico’s status. He cosponsored HR 5122, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill.