Under the dome: Three TROY alumni serving in the U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Representatives Bill Johnson, Steve Southerland and Rich Nugent might not always land on the same side of an issue facing the 112th Congress, but they will always have at least one thing in common – a Troy University degree.
Elected in November as a part of the largest freshman House of Representatives class in more than 60 years, Johnson (1979) represents Ohio’s 6th District, while Southerland (1987) and Nugent (1995) represent Florida’s 2nd and 5th districts respectively.
The three Republicans took somewhat different routes to Troy University, but all agree that their TROY experience was extremely positive.
Johnson, who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in computer science, joined the Air Force in 1973 and was encouraged by his superior officer to continue his education.
After filling out the proper paperwork, he was notified in the spring of 1977 that he qualified for an ROTC scholarship. Thanks to an education officer who had an affiliation with TROY, Johnson made his college choice and found the experience to be greater than he had anticipated.
“TROY gave me more than I ever expected,” Johnson said. “Leroy Walton was one of my computer science professors and the lessons he taught were tremendous. He was so knowledgeable and well respected that he used to tell IBM how to fix their machines. TROY gave me the opportunity and the preparation to go on and succeed in the master’s program at Georgia Tech with a 3.75 grade point average and to be successful in my career field.”
Johnson retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel after more than 26 years of service and turned his sights toward creating and building high technology businesses. He co-founded Johnson-Schley Management Group, Inc., an information technology consulting company, and then later, formed J2 Business Solutions, Inc., where he focused on providing executive level IT support as a defense contractor to the U.S. military.
Since 2006, Johnson has served as chief information officer of a Northeast Ohio-based, global manufacturer of electronic components for the transportation industry.
Nugent, who served as sheriff in Hernando County, Fla. for the past 10 years prior to making his bid for Congress, earned a Master of Public Administration at TROY’s site at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
“TROY gave me the opportunity and the flexibility I needed to be able to earn a master’s degree,” Nugent said. “It really worked out well because I was raising a family and had the demands of my career serving as operations manager for the Sheriff’s Department at the time. TROY allowed me to structure my education around my career and family obligations by going to school at night or on the weekends. That type of flexibility was very important and key to me earning my degree.”
Southerland, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business management, took a more traditional route to TROY, coming to the Troy Campus on a Leadership Scholarship after graduating from A.C. Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Fla.
“I really enjoyed my four years and was extremely active,” said Southerland, who was a member of the Trojan golf team his junior and senior year and a participant in a number of mission trips with Campus Outreach. “It provided me with the confidence necessary to pursue my dreams and made me feel that I really mattered and wasn’t just a number.”
Southerland is co-owner of Southerland Family Funeral Homes and a founding partner in Genesis Granite and Stone, LLC, and K&B Land and Timber Co.
None of the three Representatives had previous experience in the legislative arena, but all agreed it was a desire to serve and bring about change in Washington that led them to seek office.
“The chance to attend Troy University was an opportunity afforded to me by the greatest nation on the planet,” Johnson said. “I want to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to have those same types of foundational experiences. With the current state of our nation, our young people are losing those opportunities.”
Southerland defeated a seven-term incumbent and believes that his constituents sent a message with his election.
“We won the election on the basis of our ideas, and we took our message to the people,” Southerland said. “As a business owner and a person of faith, our message resonated with the people. The goal is to make a difference, and we have hit the ground running.”
Nugent said he needed to look no further than his own family for his motivation to run for Congress.
“I have three sons who are currently serving in the U.S. Army,” Nugent said. “I just felt very strongly that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines. I needed to do something to ensure their future and the future of our great country.”
While the three alumni may differ in their thoughts and approaches, all see the need for significant policy changes to address deficit spending, job creation and the current economic state of the country.
“The problems are bigger than anyone knows,” Johnson said. “We face tough financial issues as a nation and are amassing a debt that is historic in nature. We are talking about making spending cuts that are five times greater than any cuts made at any other time in the history of our country, and it is still a small bite out of the apple.”
On the bright side, Johnson sees “a lot more passion than politics” in the new Congressional leadership.
Southerland said the enormous size of the freshman class provides the opportunity to bring about change in Washington.
“By the mere size of the freshman class, we represent an enormous ability to dictate policy,” Southerland said. “We are truly focused on moving the economy forward, decreasing the size of the federal government, changing the spending habits and increasing the rights of the individual.”
Nugent also believes that the country will benefit by the large number of new faces in Washington.
“The fact that we have such a large freshman class has given us a greater voice – a voice that we wouldn’t have had if it were business as usual inside the Beltway,” Nugent said. “We are not always in agreement on every issue, but we agree in principle that there must be significant change and we must work together.”