David Jolly says competitive districts can fix Washington dysfunction

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

David Jolly says he believes he has the antidote for what ills Washington, but believes that at least in his particular case, the Florida Fair Districts amendments and the Florida Supreme Court helped derail that remedy.

Speaking at the Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon in Clearwater on Monday, the Pinellas County Representative said that more lawmakers need to reside in competitive congressional districts like the CD 13 seat he currently occupies, but is leaving next year to run for U.S. Senate. He says working in a such a moderate area, lawmakers have to represent all of their constituents and put them first in their calculations, not their political party.

CD 13 is considered a “swing-district,” of which there are very few around the country, thanks to political gerrymandering and the fact that in the case of Democrats, they tend to live closely to each other in urban environments. The voters in CD 13 elected conservative Bill Young to Congress for decades, but also voted strongly for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The 2010 Fair District amendments require that redistricting maps be contiguous, compact, and wherever possible, use previously created borders such as city and county lines and geographical features. Moreover, the district maps could not be written to benefit a political party.

Jolly says that if “fairness” is dictated by geographic boundaries alone, then it makes sense to break up CD 13, which was carved by GOP state lawmakers to remove south St. Petersburg( a hotbed of Democratic voters) from the rest of the Pinellas focused district.

However, he stressed, “Understand that you have created a district that now favors Democrats from 5-11 points,” he said, referring to what the demographic estimates have been about a redrawn CD 13 map that includes South St. Pete back into its mix. “My point is, it’s no longer a competitive district. So, (for) the 60 percent of Democrats, great. The 40 percent of Republicans, there is very little reason for the Democrat elected official in that district if he’s a Democrat to even concern himself with the interests of 40 percent of his community. “

Jolly was narrowly elected to succeed Young in one of the most expensive congressional contests ever between him last year, defeating Democrat Alex Sink. Coming after Young had represented the district for over 40 years, no one ever thought Jolly would turn around and run for the Senate a year later. But the opportunity presented itself after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater declined to run earlier this year. Immediately, Jolly’s name was floated as a possible entry in the GOP Senate contest (though he said today that his team never did a poll to gauge his chances). However, he said on Monday that he was still leaning towards staying in the seat and running for reelection in 2016 when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Florida Legislature had gerrymandered eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts, including Jolly’s CD 13 seat. That made this extremely competitive district into one that is suspected to be heavily more Democratic in terms of registered voters, and was the deciding factor in his opting to leave it in 2016 to run for the U.S. Senate bid.

“We were leaning very strongly into staying in the House. I ran to be in the House,” he said. “The truth is the Supreme Court later created a district that virtually every person in the political sphere will tell you, no Republican can win.” He went on to say that in his “heart of hearts” he’d like to test the allegedly overwhelming Democratic Party advantage in the seat, but opted to run for the Senate. “Was the Supreme Court decision a factor in me running? No. But was a it a critical factor? Of course it was. I was disappointed by the Court’s decision, because of the invalidation of what I thought was such a special district.”

Although Atwater was his choice for Senate earlier this year, Jolly says he’s in it to win it, and actually thinks there could be more Republicans getting into the contest.

Jolly is running against Jacksonville area Congressman Ron DeSantis, former military officer and CIA contractor Todd Wilcox, and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who’s from the Miami-Dade area. He was asked if thought Florida’s resign-to-run laws, which allows a candidate running for a federal office to maintain his elected position in state government. His response could have been targeted towards Lopez-Cantera, but just as likely Marco Rubio.

“If you’re holding a current office and running for another office you should be under extremely strict ethical scrutiny in terms of whether or not you’re doing the doing the job to which you were elected,” he said.

Another possible Rubio reference came later in the discussion, when Jolly boasted about how seriously he takes the job of serving in the House that he had vowed never to miss a vote, and made it through over 700 consecutive votes before the streak ended after a trip back to Washington was delayed because of bad weather. “I believe my first responsibility is to serve in the House of Representatives,” he said. As of a month ago, Rubio had missed nearly 30 percent of all votes in the Senate due to traveling the country running for president.

Jolly also said he supports reforming campaign finance laws within the boundaries dictated by the U.S. Supreme Court that equates money with free speech. “Think about an environment, an industry if you will, where elected officials are expected to spend half of their time. In any other profession, if you spent half your week doing something other than what you were hired to do, it would be considered shirking, and you should be fired.” He said one way that wouldn’t necessarily get money out of politics but would remove the incentive to raise so much is to duplicate what an unnamed European nation (Norway) has done: banning  political advertising on television and radio.

“I do believe that political giving is political speech,” he said. “But nothing is beyond the reach of reasonable regulation. And if we can solve this, sign me up.”

In his brief prepared remarks, Jolly went for some humor in describing the tough environment in Washington at the moment.

“We have a party today whose leader is on its way out. A party with so many presidential candidates,” he said, in what appeared to be a smack-down on his own political party, but ultimately wasn’t. “A front-runner in Iowa and New Hampshire that doesn’t even belong in the party for which they’re running for the nomination. A party that fumbled the message on the Iran deal; a party that no matter what they do cannot get the 218 votes on a House floor to pass anything. And a party that today has no room for sensible minds.”

“And then we have the Republicans.”

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.