Bucks, bears, and binders - inside the final days of Don Young’s office

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 11:46 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Months after the passing of Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), his office on Capitol Hill is being cleared out. For those who have visited the longtime public servant’s place of work, they will know moving out is no ordinary task.

Young’s was the most eye-popping office on Capitol Hill. The office, like the congressman, turned heads for decades. Cleaning out the space officially brings the end of an era.

Walls that once housed bears lay bare. Phones that once rang with reckless abandon are silent. A desk that once served the Dean of the House is clean save for a phone and some papers.

“This has just been an amazing place to work and I’ll miss it,” said Alex Ortiz, Young’s chief of staff.

Ortiz is one of two staffers left in Rayburn House Office Building 2314. He has called this office his home away from home for a decade. Ortiz and his team no longer serve Young, but the Alaska At-Large office. They can no longer take positions on policy as there is no figurehead making decisions, so their role is now largely ceremonial – taking calls from constituents and approving requests for American flags given out by Congressional offices.

Ortiz says clearing out the museum-like space was part treasure hunt, part asset dispersal.

“Who owns what?”

The answer is the House of Representatives for things like desks and chairs. But Ortiz says the artifacts that made Young’s office come to life, many of them dead, will be heading to the Ted Stevens Foundation in Alaska for an exhibit in the coming years.

“A place where Alaskans can go and experience a slice of the office up in the state of Alaska,” said Ortiz.

It’s a sad moment for Young’s second in command who leaves a cavernous office once buzzing with bucks and staffers. But he departs with memories, and a treasured note his boss passed him during a committee hearing that he plans to frame.

“It says bull****, exclamation point,” said Ortiz.

Nicole Desrochers is the other staffer still in the office. The legislative assistant befriended the animals that stared down at her as she worked.

“Don Young was someone who I absolutely loved to work for,” said Desrochers.

Desrochers sits in a section of the office that Young once told me he wished were a shooting range. It is the same part of the office where he told me he didn’t think PETA, the animal rights organization, liked him and he could not figure out why.

Desrochers and Ortiz believe whoever succeeds Young has a big task ahead filling the shoes of the Alaskan giant who served for 50 years. But trying to decorate like Don Young…well that might just be an impossible task.

“You’re not going to find another office like it,” said Desrochers.

An August 16 special election primary will determine who serves out the rest of Young’s term this year. That will be the official last day for Young’s team in the Rayburn office. Whoever wins will take over Young’s office until January, when the winner of the November midterm election will have to stake out a new office.

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