The Republicans on the Jan. 14 Congressional District 13 special election primary ballot are fighting for name recognition in the abnormally short run-up to the election.
So far, little is widely known about each beyond a job title or two. Candidate David Jolly, says one of his labels — that of registered federal lobbyist — doesn’t tell the whole story.
District 13 runs from Dunedin south to Tierra Verde. It encompasses most of the Pinellas Peninsula, save for much of downtown and southern St. Petersburg. The late congressman Bill Young occupied the seat for more than 40 years.
It’s a swing district, one in which the winner of the primary will face Democrat Alex Sink, who has more name recognition.
State Rep. Kathleen Peters, another GOP contender, has had the most public exposure as a city commissioner and mayor of South Pasadena, then as a legislator. Mark Bircher, the third Republican, is a retired Marine and a political newcomer.
Warding off what he called a “scarlet letter” in time for the primary might be a challenge for Jolly as Peters supporters as well as Democrats try to malign him as part of the problem in Washington. In an interview with The Tampa Tribune editorial board Tuesday, Jolly said his time sporting that title constitutes a fraction of his resume.
“I have a law firm, and I have a consulting firm,” he said. “Within that consulting firm, for some of my clients, I have registered as a federal lobbyist. In the last year that may be five to ten percent of what I do.”
Jolly said his main place of employment is Clearwater-based Boston Finance Group. He wrote a letter terminating his lobbyist status last month; he said the job isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be.
“What it means is to deal with organizations here locally in dealing with complex federal government,” he said.
He cited his work with Mark Lunsford, father of young murder victim Jessica Lunsford, in getting funding needed for the enforcement of a law allowing the U.S. Marshals Service to pursue sex offenders who try to abscond.
“You can call that lobbying; you can call that advocacy,” he said. “I like to say I know how to work with the federal government to get things done.”
Still, the lobbyist label is already proving a tough sell for some local Republicans, and many support Peters, including state Sen. Jack Latvala, Bill Young II, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri.
Jolly counts Young’s widow, Beverly, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, noted businessmen Bill Edwards and Mel Sembler and most recently South Pasadena Mayor Dan Calabria, among his supporters. Jolly said he sees his past work with lawmakers as an asset.
“Races make people say crazy things and my opponents will do what they want,” he said. “But we’re going to talk about it every day they want to talk about it because I believe it’s a qualification.”