Alaska Congressman Don Young took some flack for holding a fundraiser in Puerto Rico last week, just days before chairing a subcommittee hearing on statehood for the U.S. territory. But at the hearing back in Washington this afternoon, Young made it clear he’s no Johnny-come-lately to the question.
“On a personal level, I’ve been involved in this project since 1994,” he said at the start of the hearing. “I believe very strongly, right up front with you, in statehood. That’s no hidden secret. But that’s up to the decision of the Puerto Rican people.”
It’s a divisive question on the island. Young likened their status to Alaska’s struggle to become a state, which occurred 92 years after Alaska’s purchase.
“And Puerto Rico is still waiting 117 years later, to be recognized as Americans, full rights as Americans,” he said.
Young is a rare Republican in Congress who supports statehood for Puerto Rico. The Caribbean island is the size of Kodiak Island but it’s home to 3.6 million people. If it was a state, it would have two U.S. senators and five representatives in the House, all predicted to be Democrats.
According to an article in Politico last week, Puerto Rican residents have contributed $147,000 to Young’s re-election campaigns over more than 20 years. That doesn’t include the fundraiser a pro-statehood political action committee held for him at a San Juan restaurant on Friday.
According to Politico, Young got angry when one of its reporters asked about the propriety of holding the fundraiser a few days before the hearing. The political news outlet reported his response as “So what?” and “I’m not talking to you anymore.”