David Jolly never pictured himself running for Congress, but felt called to do so when his predecessor passed.
When David Jolly graduated college, he knew he wanted to be involved in politics. So he moved just outside of Washington, D.C., and started interning for U.S. Rep. Dan Miller from Sarasota. At night, he'd clip newspapers in the basement of the Republican National Committee for extra cash. To park in the cheapest lot, Jolly would wake up early to secure a $3 spot two miles from the capital, and nap in a phone booth until work started.
That first internship led him to a career in government consulting and lobbying, but becoming a politician wasn't part of the plan. That was, until October 2013, when U.S. Rep. Bill Young, his former boss, died. That's when Jolly felt “the hand of providence” led him to run and win the congressman's office, covering Pinellas County, the 13th district of Florida, in March.
Jolly came to office with more than 20 years' experience as a successful lobbyist and government contract consultant. In 2009, when he was 37 years old and vice president of Van Scoyoc Associates, Jolly was named to the Business Observer's 40 under 40.
Since, Jolly has completed a whirlwind of career jumps. He progressed from working for a big lobbying firm, to starting four businesses, to working as personal attorney and private counsel for Young.
When Young died, Jolly helped search for a replacement. After a couple people passed on the opportunity, he decided to run. “There are times in life when you really believe you are exactly where you're supposed to be. I mean that with a lot of humility because this is a very serious job with very serious responsibilities,” Jolly says.
At the time, Jolly owned four businesses — a lobbying firm, a law firm, a communications firm and a consulting group that helped companies identify business opportunities with the government. Now that he's in Congress, Jolly is working toward unwinding these businesses due to time constraints and congressional ethics issues while in office.
As a previous small business owner, Jolly says he's lived through the impacts of government on a small business, including access to capital, and new regulations on employers. His current focus is fiscal and budget issues. “We have to have an adult conversation about this,” Jolly says. “We don't need to play politics or even the blame game, just how do we fix this once and for all.”
It's a bit ironic that Jolly is now working in Congress, a political body that he used to give lectures about being innately dysfunctional due to the “ineffectiveness of collective decision making.” But he insists after starting in Congress you can't campaign against it, “It's not good enough once you're there to just complain about the dysfunction of the body. We have to roll up our sleeves and make it work.”
As the most junior member of Congress, he admits it's a bit disheartening to learn that most of the decisions are made by leaders. “One of the realities I've learned firsthand is it might be just as hard to convince your colleagues in Congress to do something as it is to convince voters to elect you in the first place,” he says.
In his first month on the job, he was able to secure a beach re-nourishment project for Treasure Island, introduced flood insurance reform, and worked on a couple Coast Guard issues.
Jolly says he's not trying to worry about the November election at this point. “If I do my job between now and then, it will take care of itself.”
Blast from the Past
A glimpse back at Jolly's answers from the 2009 40 under 40 issue.
First job: Working double shifts researching and clipping political articles from newspapers from across the country before the Internet era.
Business person you admire most: I have learned invaluable business lessons from observing U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young — deliberation, consensus building, reason, principled decision-making, and that a true leader knows how and when to lead from behind.
Favorite movie: Anything that profiles personal mettle and determination - “Forrest Gump,” “October Sky,” “Rudy.”
Best place to network: Infield seats at the Tampa Bay Rays games.
I can't live without: My Blackberry and a Diet Coke.
How many friends do you have on Facebook: Zero. My entire career has been within the very guarded and scrutinized fields of government and government affairs, so I generally forgo any social networking or similar sites. But I do confess to occasionally checking in on friends through my wife's Facebook page.
If I had a magic wand I'd: One of my most rewarding pro-bono advocacy projects is working with surviving parents to secure adequate funding for law enforcement to track and apprehend child predators.
If I had a magic wand, I would provide the U.S. Marshals Service with $250 million to identify and capture criminal absconders from the sex-offender registry.