TAMPA — U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of Indian Shores, the senior Republican in Congress and Florida's longest-serving member, is retiring after his the end of his 22nd term in 2014, his son confirmed to The Tampa Tribune today.
Young, 82, represents the 13th Congressional District and was first elected to the House in 1970 after serving in the Florida Senate for nine years.
He called his family this morning and told them that he was going to retire after 2014, according to son Bill Young II.
“It is something my brothers and I and our kids and mom have been talking about for a while,” Bill Young II said. “It is obviously a huge decision.”
Noting that the Republican congressman heads the influential House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee, Bill Young II said his father “wanted to go out while he was still on top. He is still chairman.”
Young said his father had broached the idea of retiring several times in the past, but “I knew it was getting more serious and felt that he was going to retire, but you never know with my dad.”
Young said his father, recently been hospitalized in the Washington, D.C., area with back problems, has been having difficulty moving.
“He was walking a little slower and with a walker,” said Young. “Ever since he had back surgery, he was not quite right. But I tell him every day that, for 82 you are doing pretty good.”
Young's seat on the House Appropriations Committee and chairmanship of its subcommittee on defense provides leverage with military contractors.
He has used his seniority and position to deliver a host of benefits to Pinellas County.
As listed on Young's website, these include projects to ease congestion on U.S. Highway 19; attracting high-tech jobs to St. Petersburg; improving health care for low-income children and families; protecting the neighboring MacDill Air Force Base; building a state of the art medical center for veterans at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System; ensuring a steady supply of water for the Tampa Bay area; and offsetting the effects of erosion on the area's beaches.
Young's retirement will spark a competitive race for the seat in a district that has leaned Democratic in the past several elections, but where prominent Republicans could be strong candidates.
Political insiders immediately speculated there will be hard-fought primaries in both parties.
“People are going to come out of the woodwork,” said former Pinellas County GOP Chairman Jay Beyrouti.
On the Democratic side, St. Petersburg lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, who ran unsuccessfully against Young in 2012, has launched another campaign for 2014 and vows that with an earlier start, she'll be a stronger candidate than in 2012.
But with the formidable Young no longer looming in the general election, Ehrlich may see a challenge for the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, the most-talked about candidate is former Mayor Rick Baker, but other big names also may be interested.
State Sen. Jack Latvala, long a dominant force in Pinellas County Republican politics, is considered another likely possibility, but didn't want to discuss the question Wednesday.
“Out of deference to Congressman Young, today is his day and I don't have any comment, other than to say he's a wonderful public servant whom I try to emulate and I'm just proud to be his friend.”
State Sen. Jeff Brandes has told friends he'd be interested in running for the seat if Young retired, local GOP insiders say; former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbert and Pinellas County Commissioners John Morroni and Karen Seel are also subjects of speculation about the race.
Pinellas County is considered the birthplace of the modern Republican Party in Florida and has traditionally been dominated by Republicans, but with a comparatively moderate political posture.
In recent years, it has become more and more Democratic. The congressional district Young represents voted for President Barack Obama by narrow majorities in both 2008 and 2012, and for Democrat Alex Sink over Republican Rick Scott in 2010.