WASHINGTON — David Jolly was sworn in Thursday as the newest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, capping an intensely fought election to replace his former boss, the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
Jolly took the oath on the House floor at 2:07 p.m., using a family Bible.
"We have had a nationally watched race, that race is now over," Jolly told his new colleagues. "And now it is time for me as a member of Congress and this body to join with each of you to follow in the footsteps that you have made in serving your community as I begin to serve mine."
Longtime Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, led him to the corner where Young would sit. "I broke down crying," Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times. "We all know the spirit he left in that chamber."
The 41-year-old Republican, who became a Capitol Hill lobbyist after working for Young, won a tight race Tuesday against Democrat Alex Sink that captured the nation's eye and saw more than $12 million in spending, mostly from outside groups.
The result spawned a partisan debate about whether it hinged on the Affordable Care Act, which Jolly pledged to repeal and Sink defended but said should be changed.
Democrats contend they simply did not turn out enough voters on election day, yet also concede that the health care law was a motivating force for Republicans. President Barack Obama and his policies also remain unpopular with Republicans and some independents.
"I've stood up here after losing some special elections, I've tried to put lipstick on a pig, but it was still a pig," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Wednesday. "So you can bet they'll try to put lipstick on it today, but you all know what the facts are."
Jolly sought to strike a bipartisan tone Thursday. "You have my commitment today to work with each and every one of you," he told his new colleagues.
He will take over Young's old office suite in the Rayburn House Office Building, a space with a spectacular view of the Capitol that exemplified the late lawmaker's stature as a top appropriator.
But Jolly said he will not sit in Young's actual office. He plans to turn it into a tribute.
"It's a balance," he said, walking to the office with an aide. "I want people to know I'm my own person, and I intend to represent people as I have laid out. I want to pay tribute to Mr. Young at the same time, though. I also just can't sit in that office."
Even if Jolly wins a two-year term in November, the office will go to a more senior member.
Jolly said he was still mulling staffing decisions but was headed back to Florida to set up district offices. He said he wants as many local staffers as possible, emphasizing constituent service.
As he rode an elevator after being sworn in, Jolly introduced himself to another member. "Oh, congratulations," replied Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. "Welcome to the whirlwind."