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Through a Category 5 hurricane in his district and a worldwide pandemic, Florida Representative Jay Trumbull ’11 has led the Appropriations Committee overseeing the state’s $100 billion budget

Jabari Smith

FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE JAY TRUMBULL ’11 knew from an early age that he wanted to go to Auburn University. He knew he would marry his high school sweetheart, Brittany ’11, after college graduation, and that he would join the family business. The one thing he didn’t know—and never even considered— was getting into politics.

“I joke with people that I got into politics because I lost a bet,” Trumbull said. “But that’s really not the case.”

In 1950, Trumbull’s great-grandfather started the Culligan Water business in Panama City, Fla. Trumbull’s grandfather was the next generation to work for the business, followed by his father and now Rep. Trumbull himself, who joined the company after earning his degree in entrepreneurship and family business.

Rep. Trumbull said a path to politics never even crossed his mind, but a family friend whose term was ending encouraged the young Trumbull to put his name in the hat. “In our family business, not only are we in the Culligan (water) business, but we also have bottled water under the private label Econfina Springs. The Patronis family owns that spring, so we’ve been business partners for 30 years. I live in Panama City, but when I was running our Culligan office in Tallahassee, I sometimes would stay in Jimmy’s apartment and I just got the bug.”

Even as a recent college graduate just beginning his career, Trumbull was already seeing issues facing small businesses. Recognizing a need and wanting to make changes, he jumped into a four-way primary—and won! He was 24 years old.

Now, at 32, Trumbull serves as chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, a leadership position second only to the Speaker of the House. The Appropriations Committee builds Florida’s $100 billion budget for the House.

“From the time I was elected back in 2014, it was a goal of mine to get in a position to chair the full Appropriations Committee,” Trumbull said. “Early on, I chaired the committee that established Triumph Gulf Coast to focus on funding the counties that were disproportionately affected by the BP oil spill. Then, I chaired Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations for two years before landing
as a full appropriations chair.”

Shortly after he reached his goal, the pandemic shut down the state, creating major obstacles, especially for those appropriating funding. Prioritizing was a challenge, making decisions on spending even more difficult.

Jay Trumball speaking with microphone in hand

“We lost a tremendous amount of revenue during the pandemic,” Trumbull said. “We were expecting to see about a $3 billion shortfall, and the only places in the state where you have a significant amount of general revenue appropriated are education and healthcare. We knew coming out of the pandemic that our children definitely needed to have a significant number of resources put behind them for education, but we didn’t want to take away a tremendous amount of money from the healthcare areas, because people were sick.”

When all was said and done—and those tough decisions were made—the Appropriations Committee was able to maintain the previous year’s budget and actually had record funding in almost every area. Trumbull was especially appreciative of the efforts of his colleagues.

“Every decision we make affects a Floridian every day,” Trumbull said. “The roads we drive, the curriculum taught in schools, the price of goods, the infrastructure, getting to and from our state, how our ports are structured, how well our roads are developed…”

When you read this, Trumbull will be overseeing his final appropriations session and beginning his eighth and final year as a state representative (Florida has term limits).

 

Trumbull met Brittany Fishel in a high school freshman algebra class in Panama City, Fla. They started dating their sophomore year, and neither dated anybody else after that. Jay’s father and Brittany’s mother and aunt were all Auburn graduates, so the couple had orange and blue running through their veins at an early age. Making the decision to attend Auburn was an easy one for both and, of course, the fact they were dating made the choice all the more fun.

After graduation in 2011, Jay followed his plan to join his family’s business and Brittany joined an engineering consulting firm. Three years later, Jay told Brittany he wanted to run for office.

“I laughed it off the first time he mentioned it,” Brittany said. “Then, a couple of months later, he brought it up again and I realized he was really serious.” Jay’s first run came at a good time in the couple’s life. They didn’t have children and he could work flexible hours in his job. The biggest commitment for the inaugural run was the campaigning.

Rep. Trumbull, head of the House Appropriations Committee, and Speaker of the Florida House Chris Sprowls meet to wrap up the 2021 legislative session while Sprowls's son, Conrad (5), looks on.

Rep. Trumbull, head of the House Appropriations Committee, and Speaker of the Florida House Chris Sprowls meet to wrap up the 2021 legislative session while Sprowls’s son, Conrad (5), looks on.

door-to-door introducing himself to his constituents and building his name and reputation,” Brittany said. “He is such a personable guy, so it wasn’t that it was hard for him, it was just a huge time commitment.”

Now, eight years later, Brittany and a business partner have their own civil consulting firm and the Trumbulls welcomed baby number three—a girl—in January. For this final legislative session, the whole family will live in Tallahassee so they can be together when Rep. Trumbull is not in session.

Reflecting on his eight years in office, Brittany said more than any bill or political accomplishment, she is most proud of the way Jay has served.

“He is a great businessman with a heart for service,” Brittany said. “He has served with tremendous loyalty and impeccable integrity. Even though he cannot run again in 2022, I suspect he won’t be out of the game for long.”

For Jay, the thing he is most proud of doesn’t have anything to do with the passing of a bill or a budget.

“When Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, slammed into Panama City Beach, I was in a position to not just be there, but to advocate for the folks of this community and the rest of Northwest Florida. Even though it was total devastation, the fact that you can see tremendous progress just three years from the anniversary is really, really amazing. I’d like to think I had a big hand in getting crucial resources here as quickly as possible. I think I am most proud of that.”

Although Trumbull supports term limits, walking away at the end of this year will be bittersweet. While the job has been incredibly stressful and difficult to manage in some ways, he says he wouldn’t trade the experience or do anything differently.

“We are elected to be citizen legislators, to represent our districts in the ways we think are most representative of the people that live here,” Trumbull said. “I’m a firm believer that after you’re done, you go home, go back to work, raise your family and live with the decisions you’ve made. Hopefully those decisions were beneficial to the majority of the people. It has been an honor to serve and I hope I leave Florida better than I found it.”

Aftermath of Hurricane Michael
Aftermath of Hurricane Michael at Panama City Beach, Fla. on Oct. 16, 2018.
Jay ’11 and Brittany ’11 Trumbull with their three children, Tripp (3), Merritt (4) and Emery, who was born in January 2022.

Jay ’11 and Brittany ’11 Trumbull with their three children, Tripp (3), Merritt (4) and Emery, who was born in January 2022.

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