By Elaine Magliaro
Zaz Hollander of Alaska Dispatch News has reported an interesting story about Don Young, a Republican congressman from the Land of the Midnight Sun. Tuesday morning, Young spoke to students at the High School in Wasilla. Hollander said that numerous witnesses claimed that Young, who is known for having a “notoriously abrasive personality,” acted “in a disrespectful and sometimes offensive manner to some students, used profanity and started talking about bull sex when confronted with a question about same-sex marriage.”
Amy Spargo, principal of Wasilla High School, said, “We really spend a lot of time at our school talking about how we treat each other. We just don’t talk to people that way.” Hollander said that what concerned school officials even more was the “hurtful and insensitive statements’ that Young made “about suicide just days after a Wasilla student took his own life.”
After teacher Carla Swick posed a question to Young about Alaska’s high suicide and domestic violence rates and asked what his office is doing about it, “Young started talking about suicide, mentioning the role played by alcohol and depression…” Witnesses said that Young said that suicide showed “a lack of support from friends and family.”
That comment stunned students and staff still mourning the loss of a student who died Thursday, staffers say.
“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,” Spargo said. “It just isn’t true in these situations. It’s just such a hurtful thing to say.”
Both Spargo and Swick say a friend of the victim, moved by emotion, shouted at Young, “He had friends. He had support.”
“The kid said, ‘It’s depression — you know, a mental illness,’ ” Spargo recalled. As she remembers, Young replied, “ ‘Well, what, do you just go to the doctor and get diagnosed with suicide?’ ”
Several school staffers said that the congressman “also used either the words ‘—hole’ or ‘smartass’” at some point during his exchange with the audience.
Hollander said, “Young’s office issued a statement about his conduct Tuesday evening in response to a request from Alaska Dispatch News.”
“Congressman Young was very serious and forthright when discussing the issue of suicide, in part because of the high number of tragedies that affect Alaskan youth. 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,” spokesman Matt Shuckerow wrote in an email. “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.”
According to Catherine Thompson (TPM Livewire), Young’s “bizarre appearance at Wasilla High School follows another unsettling exchange between Alaska’s only congressman and his challenger, Democrat Forrest Dunbar. Dunbar said earlier this month that Young ‘freaked out’ when he put his hand on the congressman’s arm backstage before a debate and told him ‘Don’t ever touch me. The last guy who touched me ended up on the ground dead.’ Young later said without clarification that the statement had ‘some truth to it.'”
Young rattles Wasilla High students with ‘hurtful’ remark about suicide (Alaska Dispatch News)