Five-term Florida Congressman Tom Rooney, who surprised Republican Party leaders by announcing in February he wouldn’t run for re-election, has applied for a county judgeship in Palm Beach County.

The judicial vacancy was created to replace Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino who was removed from the bench July 2 by the Florida Supreme Court for violating judicial canons during the 2016 campaign. 

Rooney and 31 other applicants are scheduled to interview with the Judicial Nominating Commission Aug. 27. The JNC then will send, at most, six names to Gov. Rick Scott and the governor will make the final decision for appointment. (See the full applicant list here.)

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

In a telephone interview Friday Rooney, 47, told Sunshine State News, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, trying to prepare for life after Congress. And then a few weeks ago this vacancy came up.

“I think it would be a great fit for me,” he explained. “I love being in court. I used to be a prosecutor. I thought about joining a law firm, but I like the autonomy of being a judge.”

Rooney said he and his family have been living in Okeechobee, but now also rent a home in Palm Beach Gardens. As soon as their Washington, D.C. home sells, they will buy within Palm Beach County.

Salary is not likely a career consideration for Rooney, whom Newsweek magazine lists as the 11th richest member of Congress, at $55.3 million. Nevertheless, county judges’ salaries were recently increased to $151,822 — meaning Rooney would be taking a pay cut if appointed. His base salary in Congress is $174,000. 

In his February retirement announcement, Rooney thanked “the good people of Florida’s Heartland … and most of all, I would like to thank my family, especially my mom and dad, my wife Tara and my sons Tommy, Sean Patrick, and Seamus. You have sacrificed so much so I could follow my dreams. Now it’s time for me to better support yours. …”

Rooney represents Congressional District 17, a sprawling, overwhelmingly Republican district south of Orlando and Tampa that President Donald Trump won by 27 percentage points in 2016 — so it’s likely to remain in GOP hands in November. Candidates on the ballot in the district are Republicans Bill Akins, Julio Gonzalez and Greg Steube; and Democrats April Freeman and Bill Pollard.

Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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