Looking back at the last three years, David Jolly can’t help but feel grateful.
Jolly’s term as Florida’s 13th Congressional District’s congressman has come to an end, but his ride in Washington has been unlike any other.
Jolly himself admits he’s held a lot of jobs in Washington. You name it, he’s done it.
But when the opportunity arose to actually serve the people of Florida’s 13th congressional district as a congressman, things felt a little different.
Jolly’s official congressional journey began in 2014 when he was thrust into the national spotlight after the death of his mentor and longtime employer, U.S. Congressman Bill Young.
Following a nailbiter victory over former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Jolly found himself back in Young’s office, where the man he considered his close friend and confidant sat for so many years.
This time, Jolly was taking over where Young left off. This time, he would make the job his own.
At the time, Jolly said he couldn’t help but let his emotions bubble to the surface.
“I still remember when we walked...into what will always be Young’s office, I broke down crying,” he told Sunshine State News. “It was personal.”
Jolly was given the option to take Young's office. He refused. Instead, he took a smaller staff room and turned Young’s office into a conference room named after him in his memory.
Once Jolly sat down in his chair to get to work, he didn’t have time to sit back and catch his breath.
“It was a tumultuous time [in Congress],” Jolly explained. “There were fights with Obama, a lack of productivity...and an unwillingness of leadership to move an agenda.”
Times were tough. Jolly recalled when House leadership refused to consider immigration reform, a political battle Jolly wishes had turned out different.
Yet in spite of the trials, Jolly said he still found there were successes to be had and victories to be celebrated.
Some of those victories came from introducing bills to expand veterans’ healthcare options, to protect law enforcement officers and to curb the amount of time congressmen had to fundraise while working in D.C -- a bill which put a target on Jolly’s back.
Jolly said he was caught off guard by the sheer amount of time congressmen were required to make calls and raise money while on Capitol Hill.
For him, it was his biggest heartbreak.
“There’s a pay-to-play culture,” Jolly told SSN. “I never saw [Young] make a single phone call. He didn’t have to. The lessons and the direction to spend 20-30 hours a week to raise money...is real.”
Jolly decided he wanted no part in the shady fundraising efforts, so he introduced the STOP Act to ban members of Congress for asking for money while working in Washington. The legislation aimed to stop congressmen from spending more time raising money than what voters actually elected them to do.
Jolly found triumph through the sharp pain of discovering the reality of fundraising in Washington -- and the legislation, he said, was his biggest success in office.
“Even though we didn’t get it passed, we had nine or ten cosponsors,” he explained. “We pulled the curtain back on an absolute truth.”
Not everyone felt the same way. The National Republican Congressional Committee called Jolly a liar, and after a 60 Minutes special ran on the fundraising in Washington, they never dropped another dime into Jolly’s campaign account again.
It was then that Jolly truly understood the meaning of blazing his own trail. With the NRCC out of the picture, Jolly found a newfound sense of freedom.
He was no longer chained by the shackles of the Republican Party hitting him up to raise cash on their behalf. He could play by his own rules.
Without the NRCC’s help, Jolly fought hard for CD13 once more last year, but redistricting set him up at a disadvantage and he lost the election in a vicious campaign against former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
Crist takes office on Tuesday, but Jolly isn’t bitter.
“I hope he is successful in this position for the county...as a resident and a voter, I hope he does well for as long as he chooses to [serve],” he told SSN.
As an experienced congressman, Jolly had some advice for Crist.
“[He needs to] recognize that the job is bigger than he is,” he said. “Charlie’s Achilles heel is that it has always been about Charlie. This is an opportunity for him to prove to the people of Pinellas County that it’s not all about him.”
While he wished him the best, he still set up the possibility that he would come back for a grudge match against Crist come 2018.
“If he doesn’t honor that [commitment], and history indicates that will be a challenge for him, he will be vulnerable,” Jolly said.
Next time, Crist won’t be so lucky, Jolly said.
“If we run in 2018, we will beat him,” he said.
For now, 2018 is far away and Jolly is still mulling over his options. He said he and his wife would see what the future holds in a year and in 2020.
At the end of his journey as CD13 congressman, Jolly still, however, says it always comes back to Bill Young.
For years, Young had the same office phone number. Jolly knows it by heart. As Jolly departs, he wanted to make sure he left a piece of Young still intact, so he had Young’s phone number shut down. It will be officially retired Jan. 3.
The phone number will now live on as Young’s House office contact forever, a symbol of his lasting legacy in Florida politics.
At the end of his term, Jolly said he will always look back fondly on his time in Washington and will always be proud of his work.
“I’m a preacher’s kid who grew up not knowing a lot of people,” Jolly explained. “I never thought I’d meet a member of Congress, much less have the privilege of serving as a member of Congress….I’m very grateful.”
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