Anyone who drives U.S. 19 in Pinellas County owes a debt of gratitude to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. The longest-serving member of Florida’s congressional delegation delivered the federal money needed to address congestion on that major thoroughfare.
Critics of federal spending might call that an earmark, and that is fine with Young, who earned a reputation for delivering the goods to his Pinellas County district. That’s the way Congress did business when he arrived in 1971, and the way he continues to do business to this day.
His announcement Wednesday that he will retire when his term ends in 2014 is a blow to the area’s political might, and a loss for the military personnel and contractors who call the Tampa Bay area home.
Young, a Republican, rose from Depression-era poverty to become a Florida state senator and then a member of Congress, where he was appointed chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which decides where the money goes.
He is serving his 22nd term in the U.S. House, representing District 13, and is the senior Republican in the entire Congress, working with eight presidents along the way.
He has long been an advocate for the men and women who serve in the military, and fiercely protected MacDill Air Force Base from threatened closures. He helped build a medical center for veterans at Bay Pines in Pinellas County. He is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and a member of another subcommittee on veterans affairs.
Over the years he has delivered the money needed to replenish eroded beaches and to build a reservoir to store drinking water in this area. In short, he has become an iconic political figure.
Now 82, Young says his health is among the reasons he is retiring. He survived a plane crash in 1970 and attributes recent health problems to the crash injuries. When asked, he complains about the tone of politics these days and the gridlock affecting Congress.
His announcement signals an end to a quieter way of doing business in Washington, one that was more likely to put the country and the people above politics. The last time Congress passed a balanced budget, Young was running the Appropriations Committee.
He deserves a round of applause from the entire Tampa Bay area.