ST. PETERSBURG — The suspense was supposed to be building at a special tribute to longtime Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young on Saturday night, because everyone knew the story line:
Would Young decide 40 years in the U.S. House is enough, and announce his retirement? Or would he discuss plans to seek another term?
But before he stood up to speak, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, let the news slip: "I will say to you, this is not Bill Young's swan song tonight."
That brought a round of applause. And shortly after that, Young shed a little more light on his decision to run for a 21st term in Congress by referring to his outspoken wife Beverly, an activist for supporting U.S. troops.
"Beverly told me that if I didn't run, she was going to," Young said. So he thought, "maybe I better stay on the job."
Young told the crowd of about 500 that he wasn't trying to be coy about his decision whether to run for re-election. He simply doesn't believe in long campaigns or even in raising campaign money during non-election years.
But now that it's 2010, he said, he's excited about running again.
In fact, most of the talk about retirement at this dinner concerned someone else.
"Retiring Nancy Pelosi is a national project," said Sessions, who is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and was keynote speaker Saturday.
The dinner was an annual fundraising event for the Pinellas Republican Party and featured other notables including Gov. Charlie Crist, state Sen. Dennis Jones and U.S. Reps. Adam Putnam and Gus Bilirakis.
This dinner was cast as a tribute to Young because, with nearly 40 years in Congress and 10 years in the state Senate, Young has spent a half-century in office. He has never lost an election.
After confirming his plans to run again, Young alluded to the fact that Republicans have been derided as "the party of no." He said he would continue to fight "radical left" ideas.
"I voted against the bailout, and I'm going to do it again," he said to applause.
"I voted against the stimulus, and I'm going to do it again," he added.
"I voted against the government takeover of our health programs, and I'm going to do it again."
Young served in the state Senate when Republicans were scarce and spent long years in the minority in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House. He gained more power after Republicans took control of the House in the 1990s.
Young, 79, rose through the ranks of the powerful Appropriations Committee, eventually becoming its chairman. Now he is back in the minority, but still a senior member of the committee.
Although Young often has faced only token opposition, or none at all, this time Democratic state Sen. Charlie Justice has begun to campaign for the seat. Like Young, Justice served a decade in the Legislature before running for Congress.
Young served for decades alongside another longtime Pinellas Republican representative, Michael Bilirakis, whose son Gus succeeded him in office. On Saturday, Gus Bilirakis read aloud from a letter his father wrote to Young: "When you decide to retire, retirement is pretty nice."
Young said after the dinner that he would let voters know he is concerned about "the direction the present leadership is taking the country." In particular, he said he's worried about "a country that is coming closer to bankruptcy."
"When I was chairman," of the Appropriations Committee, Young said, "We balanced the budget."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.