WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida’s most influential and longest-serving member of Congress, told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that he has decided to retire when his term ends in 2014.
Young, 82, said there are several factors in why he won’t run for re-election including his health and his desire to spend more time with his family.
He recalled a conversation many years ago with Sen. John Stennis in which he asked the Mississippi Democrat when Young would know it’s time to retire.
"You’ll know when it’s time," Stennis told him.
Young, who has been in Walter Reed Medical Center since Friday because of a back injury, said he recently concluded that "it’s my time."
"Sen. Stennis gave me some very good advice. I’m taking that advice now," Young said in a telephone interview from the hospital.
Asked why he had decided it was time, Young said, "I don’t know that I would pick out one thing. It’s a lot of things. My family, my job, my rehabilitation from my back."
After talking with the Times, Young planned to call House Speaker John Boehner and give him the news.
Asked if the congressional gridlock was a factor, Young said, "I’m a little disappointed. It seems there’s too much politics. It’s a different Congress."
But he also said he appreciated the spirit of the Republican tea party members. "I love every one of these guys. They’re doing what they think is right. That’s what I did."
Young seemed increasingly out of step with the changing climate of Washington, a sharper brand of partisanship fed by a 24/7 news cycle and social media. In recent years he expressed frustration with tone, though Young seemed to adopt a harder edge at times and often voted in line with his party.
Young last week, however, broke with most Republicans and said he would vote for a budget resolution that did not attempt to dismantle the president’s signature health care reform law. In candid comments about the control the tea party had over Boehner, Young said in an interview: "He withstood the pressure for a long time. He finally has agreed to the outspoken minority of his conference. And they’re pretty much in charge right now."
Young’s announcement caps a 53-year career in which he rose from being one of a handful of Republicans in the Democrat-controlled Florida Senate to the chairman of the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee.
Young over his career brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area. He single-handedly built up a defense contracting industry in the area, creating jobs and stirring the economy. But he was also seen as an symbol of government spending gone amuck, the reigning king of political pork. Young was a frequent target of government watchdog groups, who pointed to his power and skill getting money as a need for reform.
The announcement scrambles the dynamics of the upcoming election. Young was almost a virtual lock for re-election — he’s dispatched opponent after opponent, usually with ease -— but the district has become more favorable to Democrats. Barack Obama won it in 2008 and 2012. The leading Democratic opponent is lawyer Jessica Ehrlich, but a race would be sure to attract other candidates and the county is home to a number of formidable Republicans.