Tom Rooney: Family the factor in leaving Congress; may run for judge

5:26 p.m Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 Politics
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney speaking at Indian River State College in 2009. (Sarah Grile/The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, said guilt about missing time with his family was a big factor in his decision not to seek a sixth term in Congress this year.

Rooney said he hasn’t decided what he wants do when his term expires in January, but he mentioned the possibility of running for elections as a judge in Florida’s 19th Judicial Circuit, which is composed of Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties.

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Palm Beach Gardens native Rooney, 47, announced Monday he won’t seek re-election to his heavily Republican District 17 seat, which includes parts of nine counties generally north and west of Lake Okeechobee. Rooney won with 61.8 percent of the vote in 2016 and was considered a lock for re-election this year.

Rooney was first elected to a Palm Beach County-Treasure Coast congressional seat in 2008 but moved to District 17 after the 2012 redistricting. Several Republicans are likely to scramble for the District 17 seat in Rooney’s absence. Rooney said he probably won’t make an endorsement in the GOP primary and doesn’t believe a Democrat can win the seat.

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Rooney over the years has often expressed frustration with Washington and concerns about the time away from his family that politics demands.

When the Republican-controlled House failed to repeal Obamacare last year after years of campaigning on the issue, Rooney fumed: “The American people rank the congressional approval rating below Fidel Castro, who is dead. And today they’re right. We failed the American people. There’s no other way to say it. We failed. They put their trust in the Republican Party to lead and we didn’t.”

At the time, he added: “I’ve been here too long. I’m no longer the new guy that can act like things are going to get better.”

Rooney moved his family to Washington so he could spend more time with his wife and sons, but noted that on Tuesday he was away from them as he returned to his district to tend to his constituents.

Rooney’s sons are now 16, 14 and 11.

“I kind of feel like I’m holding them back…The ultimate selfishness is not not be around,” Rooney said Tuesday.

“This is probably being an Irish Catholic. I am starting to feel a lot of guilt. They need to be the most important thing in my life right now, not me,” Rooney said.

The party that does not control the White House traditionally makes big gains in midterm elections, but Rooney said the political climate and the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the House were not factors in his decision not to run.

Rooney said he’s not convinced Democrats will gain control and, if they do, “I served in the minority. You can still get a lot done for your constituents…The job’s actually a lot easier when you’re in the minority. Just vote no on everything.”

While mentioning the possibility of a circuit judgeship, Rooney said he hasn’t settled on any future course.

“I wanted to give myself a little time to be open to anything that comes down the pike,” Rooney said.