For thousands of Pinellas residents born after the Beatles or who moved here after the Vietnam War, Rep. C.W. Bill Young was their only representative in the U.S. House. Mr. Young, who died Friday at age 82, was a steady presence through more than four decades of dramatic change in Tampa Bay and the nation. He leaves a remarkable legacy in the public projects he funded and the lives he touched.
Mr. Young was first elected to the House in 1970 and was the longest-serving Republican in Congress. He did not gravitate toward cable talk shows, and he was not a presence on Facebook or Twitter. He preferred reasoned discussion over shouted slogans. He raised relatively little campaign money and ran few television ads. Yet he only twice won re-election with less than 60 percent of the vote.
From MacDill Air Force Base to the University of South Florida to U.S. 19, Mr. Young brought home projects and programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The former House Appropriations Committee chair, and more recently the chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, defended earmarks until they were banned. The nation's top military leaders depended on him to fund their priorities. But Mr. Young never lost touch with those he cared about most. He championed area veterans hospitals but demanded answers when they fell short. He and his wife, Beverly, spent days at the bedsides of wounded soldiers and often intervened on their behalf.
The best way to honor Mr. Young is for members of Congress to vote in the public interest rather than blindly follow either political party. He voted for the Clean Water Act of 1972 and to override President Richard Nixon's veto - and he voted to preserve the law in 2011 when most House Republicans wanted to gut it. He ensured that Congress protected the Gulf Coast from oil drilling, and he held firm when Republicans pushed for more drilling. He made news last year by changing positions and calling for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Mr. Young was the rare Republican who maintained that reducing the federal deficit required both spending cuts and new revenue. And he called on House Speaker John Boehner to stop demanding cuts to the Affordable Care Act, end the government shutdown and pass a clean spending bill. When that time finally came Wednesday, Mr. Young was hospitalized and unable to vote.
Over the years, we often disagreed with Mr. Young on policy issues. But we never questioned that his top priorities were his nation, its soldiers and Tampa Bay. He gave this region and Florida a thoughtful voice in the House's top leadership, and he leaves a void at home and in Washington that will be difficult to fill.