The politicization of the funeral for C.W. Bill Young, the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives and Florida history, has surprised even the most jaded D.C. observers.
Funerals of politicians are inherently political, notes David Hawkins in Roll Call, but Young’s funeral arrangements have become a “gobsmacking surprise” by how deeply politics have infused the event.
In the days after his passing, both sides of the aisle have lauded Young, who died only 10 days after announcing his retirement from the House, for his co-operative personality and strength as a legislator. Bipartisan tributes come as no surprise for the man responsible for appropriations of almost half-trillion dollars in annual military spending. He even warranted a full-page Washington Post testimonial by Lockheed Martin, the nation’s leading defense contractor.
Tonight is the public viewing at the Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center in Pinellas Park, and Thursday afternoon will have at least 4,000 attending the funeral at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks.
Expected to speak are House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, who succeeds Young as the top Republican defense appropriator in the House, as well as former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.
The first political controversy comes from the House cancelling Thursday’s business for Young’s funeral, something that has annoyed many conservatives, writes Hawkins. They say it is inappropriate to hold a two-day workweek so close the end of a government shutdown.
Boehner further aggravated conservatives by making an exception to sequester-based restrictions on the use of government aircraft for the Florida trip by House members. The Speaker allowed a military aircraft to fly all members wanting to attend Young’s funeral.
The size of the plane — and cost — would be determined by how many members choose to go; estimates put it anywhere between $25,000 to $100,000.
The second dust-up was when Young’s widow Beverly sent an email to three prominent Pinellas County Democrats telling them to stay away from the service — Attorney Jessica Ehrlich, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice and former Governor Charlie Crist.
“Bill specifically said he didn’t want his memorial service to be a platform for local politicians to work the crowds,” she told the Tampa Bay Times, although according to Hawkins, it might have the reverse effect by further politicizing the event.
If those two political disputes over Young’s funeral were not enough, Hawkins predicts small-government conservatives are also likely to squawk over the traditional $174,000 widow’s benefit, which requires congressional approval.