The death of U.S. Rep. W.C. Bill Young represents a huge loss to the Tampa Bay region, and not just for political reasons.
Young, who died at age 82 of lingering health complications, was genuinely liked and respected by people of all political stripes for his personality and for his willingness to work for the greater good. That stands in sharp contrast to the petty politics that diminish the stature of our Congress members with each passing day.
While he followed the Republican party on tax reform, welfare reform, and cutting the Washington bureaucracy, he broke ranks to oppose much of his party’s environmental agenda and its push to expand oil drilling off the Florida coast. He opposed his party’s push for the repeal of assault rifle bans.
One of his final political acts was to call for an end to the shameful government shutdown.
His impoverished beginnings gave him a balance and perspective unfamiliar to many of his fellow Congress members. Born during the Depression in Pennsylvania, he moved to Florida after his father abandoned the family. He quit high school to care for his ill mother. He joined the National Guard and ran an insurance agency before being elected to the Florida Senate, and then Congress.
He was serving his 22nd term in the U.S. House, representing District 13 in Pinellas County, and was the senior Republican in the entire Congress, working with eight presidents along the way and rising to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. His ability to deliver the bacon back home became legendary.
Some recent critics have sneered at Young’s use of earmarks, but that narrow view ignores the reality that Young advanced worthy projects that helped the community and were legitimate federal expenses.
His contributions to his district, the entire Tampa Bay area, and to the military in particular, are immeasurable.
He was instrumental, along with U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, in saving MacDill Air Force Base in the early 1990s after a fighter wing base was transferred to Arizona, taking 2,300 jobs from the area. He worked to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather planes and Air Force refueling tankers to the base, restoring 700 of those lost jobs. He has delivered billions of dollars to the base and to military contractors that support the base.
He won critical funding for the Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center, and has been a strong advocate for the University of South Florida, helping develop centers of excellence in technology and marine science. He delivered the money to ease congestion on U.S. 19 in his district, and to replenish eroded beaches.
But the accomplishment of which he was most proud was the establishment of a national bone marrow donor program. After coming to know a young girl who died because a matching donor could not be found, he pressed for the national program, which has saved lives.
It is safe to say the likes of a politician like Bill Young may never be seen again. The entire Tampa Bay area is a better place because of his service.