Alaska Rep. Young breaks tradition to attend State of Union speech

The Anchorage Daily NewsJanuary 25, 2011 

WASHINGTON — For the first time since 1974, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, plans to attend the president's State of the Union speech.

He'll be sitting with Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who, along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was among the first to call for mixed-party seating at the annual address.

The two senators on Monday announced their seatmates. Begich will join Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY. Murkowski will sit with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Young told his staff Monday he hasn't attended a State of the Union address since his first term of office. Generally, Young stays home and watches the speech on television rather than crowding into the House chambers with much of the country's political leadership.

Begich asked Young earlier this month to consider attending and sitting with him. It was Young's "good friend and new neighbor in the Rayburn Building," Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who convinced Young to attend, said Young's spokeswoman Meredith Kenny.

He hasn't gone in the past because he's been concerned about the security of having so many elected officials under one roof, Kenny said.

"Because I'm an old hunter," Young told Alaska Public Radio Network in 2010. "And when you have the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps and everybody together under one roof, it always gives me great concern."

Typically, Democrats and Republicans don't sit together at the State of the Union speech, which can be a little like watching a basketball game in a crowded gym. Members of Congress stand to cheer and applaud for the home team -- the president -- when he scores a point they like. And the other party stays seated.

The move this year toward for bipartisan seating was prompted by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and was taken up by Murkowski and other members of Congress. Their call for civility came after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six people.

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