Newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly sat down with Times staff writer Curtis Krueger this week, just prior to a scheduled news conference about Veterans Affairs issues. Jolly, R-Indian Shores, won a hard-fought and close election March 11 and now represents people in Pinellas County's District 13, which extends from south Pinellas to Dunedin, with portions of downtown and southern St. Petersburg cut out. Here are excerpts from the conversation:
What do you think the VA needs most urgently right now?
Most urgently, I think, the secretary needs to clear the wait list. It's a very simple message. We've put it in a letter to him and I even underlined the sentence that said, "Mr. Secretary, clear the wait list right now, using available resources, private sector medical providers."
How confident are you right now that veterans are getting good care and getting it quickly?
I'm not confident they're getting it quickly. The reports we hear on the quality of care are very good, they really are. Really the only frustration that comes our way is in the way of delay of care. …
It's been less than three months since the election... what has surprised you the most?
I don't know that there have been any surprises. I can tell you that one of the most important impressions is, you know, I've worked within the Congress for 20 years, give or take … when you actually are responsible for casting the vote that comes with a real responsibility. It can be the most routine vote of the week. …
It goes back to something we've talked about … this is a purple district and every vote I've cast has to be a thoughtful vote for what it means for our district. And that's different from about 400 members. It's a small group that represents purple districts, maybe 20 of us, maybe 30 of us.
It's a purple district, which means you might very well have expected to have a vigorous campaign against a Democrat in the fall. How surprised were you when the Democrats did not have a candidate?
I was surprised, but my attitude from March 12 on was I have a job to do and if I do my job then November takes care of itself. … I'd be surprised if they don't have a candidate in 2016.
(Interestingly enough, after this interview, Beverly Young, widow of the longtime congressman C.W. Bill Young, said she will challenge Jolly in 2016 as a Democrat. During this interview, Jolly declined to talk about his deteriorating relationship with Beverly Young, who vigorously supported him during his campaign. He said it was a "personal relationship.")
Of course there is still an election in the fall. Would you debate (Libertarian candidate) Lucas Overby?
I'm not worrying about the campaign and campaign tactics until well past Labor Day. I have a job to do. I'm focusing on doing that job. We'll see what the landscape looks like come September and October.
What else would you like to add?
I love the job and I hate the politics.
What reaction did you get after voting against the Ryan budget?
I've got to tell you it was overwhelmingly favorable from the right, to the center, to the left. Obviously those on the left probably appreciated my vote and on the right people understood that sometimes keeping your word is the most important thing of all. Listen, I still have very conservative positions on a lot of things. What I said to a lot of the local groups was "Look, I kept my word on the Ryan budget but that means I also kept my word on other things." I voted to repeal the individual mandate in Obamacare. ... I think people appreciate the fact that they know where you stand.