WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida's longest-serving member of Congress and a lawmaker who has been influential on military spending during his 43 years in Washington, has decided to retire.
Young said he will serve the rest of his term, which ends next year. His district is expected to be up for grabs, and Wednesday's announcement makes it likely that Democrats will pour additional resources into the district during the 2014 election.
The 82-year-old Florida lawmaker first announced his decision in the Tampa Bay Times. His spokesman, Harry Glenn, confirmed it.
In recent years, Young has become increasingly frail and has relied on a wheelchair. He was quoted by the newspaper as saying that his decision was based on both his health and a desire to spend more time with his family.
He added that he has been at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., since Friday due to back problems that stemmed from a 1970 small-plane crash.
Within an hour of Young's announcement, praise of his service from his fellow Florida politicians emerged.
"Congressman Bill Young is an American patriot," tweeted former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. "We appreciate his service!"
Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio praised Young for his support for the military. "No one has fought harder for the servicemen and women in this country and for returning veterans than Bill and his wife, Beverly," wrote Rubio in a news release.
Said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat: "He was always someone who approached solutions in a bipartisan way. He will be missed."
According to the Florida Secretary of State's office, the district is composed of 37.7 percent Republicans, 35.2 percent Democrats, 23.2 percent independents. The rest are registered with other parties.
In 2012, President Barack Obama carried the district 52-46 percent in the presidential race, while Young beat Democratic challenger Jessica Ehrlich 58-42 percent.
Ehrlich has already declared her candidacy for 2014 and had raised nearly $154,000 as of July.
It's unclear who will run for the Republican nomination. Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and State Sen. Jeff Brandes have been mentioned as possibilities by observers of the region's political scene. Young's son, Bill Young II, has expressed interest in the past in running for office.
C.W. Bill Young was born in Harmarville, Pa., and later moved to Indian Shores, Fla., a small Gulf Coast community in Pinellas County.
He served in the Army National Guard from 1948 to 1957, then became an aide to U.S. Rep. William Cramer from 1957 to 1960. From 1961 to 1971, he served in the Florida Senate.
He was first elected to the U.S. House in 1970. Young and his wife, Beverly, have three children.
The congressman has been a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he focused on military spending. He and his wife frequently visited ailing service members at hospitals in the Washington area.
When asked by the paper if congressional deadlock was a factor in his retirement, Young replied: "I'm a little disappointed. It seems there's too much politics. It's a different Congress."
Still, he expressed affection for Republican tea party members in the House.
"I love every one of these guys," he said. "They're doing what they think is right. That's what I did."
As one of the strongest defense hawks in Congress, Young made headlines in 2012 when he said the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.
Young told The Associated Press at the time that "we're killing kids who don't need to die," and reflected the growing weariness with a conflict that had dragged on for more than a decade.
Young brought hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks back to the Tampa Bay area, and built up a defense contracting industry in the region, creating jobs and stirring the economy.
Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Fla.