On October 16, 1972, Alaska was rocked with the news that Rep. Nick Begich, along with House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, Begich’s aide Russell Brown, and pilot Don Jonz, had disappeared in a plane crash while traveling from Anchorage to Juneau. Despite extensive searches, the plane was never found, and the search was called off three weeks after the Nov. 7 election.
The state was left with a vacant seat in Congress, and in a special election held on March 6, 1973, voters chose Don Young, a Republican, to fill out the remainder of Begich’s term. Young defeated Democratic nominee Emil Notti with 51.41% of the vote.
Young went on to win a full term in 1974, defeating Democratic State Sen. Willie Hensley with 53.84% of the vote.
The tragic loss of Begich and his companions had a profound impact on Alaska politics and the state’s representation in Congress. Young served in Congress for the remainder of his life, a total of 49 years.
After Young’s death on March 18, 2022, a special election was held to fill the vacant seat. This time, a rural Native Alaskan, Mary Peltola, won the seat back for the Democrats, breaking a long-held Republican stronghold on the seat.
In the 2022 general election, Peltola managed to hang onto the seat with 51.5% of the vote, thanks to the new ranked-choice voting method of tabulating the winner. Peltola beat former Gov. Sarah Palin, as well as Rep. Nick Begich’s Republican grandson Nick Begich III, and Libertarian candidate Chris Bye.
Photo: Don Young, left, and Emil Notti, right