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David Jolly — one year in as Pinellas’ representative in Washington

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

On the last Friday in March, David Jolly spoke before nearly 500 Pinellas County Republicans at the party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner. While offering up a somewhat predictable attack on Barack Obama’s foreign policy initiatives, somewhat surprisingly, he also reserved plenty of disdain toward his fellow Republicans regarding a recent vote on the House budget.

“There’s no reason for anybody to serve in the U.S Congress if one day they’re going to look back and see that the debt increased under their watch,” he said. “I have no interest in being part of a U.S Congress that I’m going to look back on one day and recognize that we actually increased the debt over the time of my tenure, not decrease it. We need candidates that share that commitment.”

The comments reflect the fact that on some issues, Jolly can be more hardcore than the majority of his House Republican brethren. Only 16 other GOP representatives joined him in opposing the party’s approved budget in late March. But before you label him as a “severe Republican” (to use Mitt Romney’s nomenclature), it’s important to note that he was also one of just a dozen Republicans to vote against the Paul Ryan-crafted GOP House budget a year earlier, saying that he was keeping a campaign promise to his constituents not to tamper with Medicare, a no-no in a district filled with seniors.

Those are the facts of life when representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District, still considered to be one of the “swingiest” districts in the nation, despite the fact that it’s remained in Republican control seemingly forever. But It’s also a district that voted for Barack Obama twice, and all told took in over $12 million in a free-for-all spending frenzy by the candidates and D.C.-based “special interests” in March of 2014, when Jolly defeated Alex Sink in one of the wildest local congressional races ever in the Tampa Bay area.

Jolly was a longtime aide to the late C.W. Bill Young, who essentially owned the seat for over four decades, easily knocking off Democrats by 20 or 30 percentage points every couple of years. But he was hardly the insider’s pick to succeed Young when Young passed away in October of 2013. He ultimately won the party’s primary in January of 2014, toppling state representative Kathleen Peters and retired Marine Corps Reserve Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher.

Since being elected, however, Jolly has rarely made a false move, keeping up with he district’s moderate reputation.

While generally conservative on a great deal of issues (certainly on one that divided his district — immigration), he’s shown the ability to be flexible in other areas, none more prominent than his announcement that he supports same-sex marriage, which enraged social conservatives inside the district and beyond. He also voted against the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015.”

Highlights in terms of legislation in his first full year in office include co-sponsoring and getting passed an emergency VA bill to help with the embarrassing backlog issue, and successfully including language in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act that helps extend the federal authorization of the 50-year ongoing beach renourishment project in Treasure Island.

In terms of proposals, he’s introduced a flood insurance bill, a bill that is considered one the country’s largest commitments to youth safety (the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act Reauthorization), and combining with Virginia Republican Virginia Foxx on stopping political robocalls.

And what about his bill that would compel Congress to work a full five-day workweek? It obviously had no chance in hell of passing, and certainly didn’t ingratiate him with plenty of others in D.C. just getting a check, but you’ve got to appreciate his enthusiasm.

Jolly also received a lot of cable news attention recently by helping the UAE drop charges against Ryan Pate, after the contractor got into a hot mess by making some extremely disrespectful and borderline racist comments on Facebook about Arabs.

So what are his chances for re-election in 2016?

Though some with Team Jolly frequently say they expect a challenge from a social conservative, the district has shown time and time again that it won’t vote for far-right candidates, keeping Jolly safe in that respect.

And Democrats? Well, after the debacle that was the 2014 general election campaign — when they somehow failed to procure a candidate in November after the searing special election in March, they may have a credible contender in former Obama administration official Eric Lynn, who is reportedly close to committing to a race.

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Chair Susan McGrath scolds Jolly for adding his vote to the 50th attempt to repeal Obamacare and immigration.

“David Jolly has proven to be out of touch,” she says. “Whether it be Eric Lynn, with a strong background in national security, or someone else, voters will look for a candidate that represents their interests.”

That of course, remains to be seen.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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