ST. PETERSBURG — Democrat Charlie Justice will end a decade-long state legislative career to challenge C.W. Bill Young for Congress.
"The decisions made in Washington, D.C., more and more impact our daily lives, and that's what drew me to public service in the first place,'' said the 39-year-old state senator from St. Petersburg. "We need people in Washington that understand their decisions have real impact on the families and small businesses here."
Young, 78, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening but told the St. Petersburg Times earlier this month that he has no plans to retire after his 20th term in Congress. He won't make any decision until next year, however.
Either way, Justice says he's in.
"If he decides to retire after 40 years in Washington, we'll thank him for his service, and if he decides to run again, we'll have a healthy debate,'' said Justice, an academic adviser at the University of South Florida.
Running against Young is entirely different from running for an open seat. The 10th Congressional District, stretching from St. Petersburg to Dunedin, has been increasingly trending Democratic — Barack Obama won it by 5 percentage points — but Young is a popular political institution who has funneled many millions of dollars into the region and has never had a close re-election contest. In the Democratic wave of 2008, Young, R-Indian Shores, beat Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth by more than 20 percentage points.
Justice sponsored a 2007 bill that now allows state office-holders to run for another office without resigning from their current one. But it won't help him because he is up for re-election in 2010, and candidates are barred from running for two offices at the same time.
His announcement probably will prompt a flurry of jockeying for Senate District 16, where two-thirds of voters reside in Pinellas County and one-third live in Hillsborough County. It is among the most competitive districts in Florida, and prospective names surfacing already include Democratic state Reps. Bill Heller and Rick Kriseman and Republican former state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Meanwhile, Justice won't be the only Tampa Bay politician watching for any sign that Young may retire. Republican contenders to succeed Young include Pinellas County Commissioners John Morroni and Karen Seel and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard.
Justice was elected to the state Senate in 2006 after serving three terms in the state House. A native of St. Petersburg, Justice is married to Kathleen Justice and has two daughters, Allison and Erin.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8241.