The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.

Today’s Q&A feature is Patrick Murphy, former two-term U.S. Representative from Florida’s 18th Congressional District. In 2013, At the age of 29, he became the youngest member of the House of Representatives. Patrick’s key accomplishments in office include helping secure nearly $2 billion in Everglades restoration funding, introducing the SAVE Act to eliminate billions in wasteful government spending, and passing legislation to reform the national flood insurance market. One of the first millennials elected to Congress, Patrick formed the bipartisan United Solutions Caucus, bringing members of both parties together to explore ways to get the nation’s fiscal house in order. He was named 2014’s Champion of the Everglades by Audubon Florida for his strong environmental advocacy.

In the House, Patrick served on the Financial Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, where he authored several key national security provisions included in the 2017 intel authorization. Known as a problem-solver able to work across the aisle, Patrick had one of the most independent voting records among all members during his two terms.

After leaving office in 2017, Patrick was named chair of the Future Forum Foundation, a nonprofit group working to address economic issues facing millennials. He was selected to be one of six Visiting Fellows at the prestigious Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service for the fall 2017 semester, and in 2018 became a Senior Fellow at Florida International University’s Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs.

We caught up with Patrick to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.

Why did you choose this career path?

Growing up, I had no idea that I would eventually enter politics. I began my career as a CPA and small businessman, and truly believed I would remain in the private sector. But after the Tea Party takeover of Congress in 2010 and specifically the rise of Allen West, who was elected to the House right in my backyard; I began to question my priorities and believed If I wanted to see change in government, I needed to make the difference myself. So I declared myself a candidate, and after a grueling campaign that was decided in a recount, I emerged victorious. I ran on a platform of bipartisanship and pragmatism with a focus on local solutions, and tried to avoid the petty politics that have consumed Washington. I believe I made some strides in those areas during my two terms, and the opportunity to serve the people of the Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches remains the honor of my lifetime.

Who inspired you to get involved?

I have always viewed my father as an inspiration and mentor to me. He worked hard to grow a successful construction business completely from the ground up. He instilled in me the values of hard work and determination, and made sure my first job for the company as a teenager was digging holes and working on job sites. He also made sure I had every opportunity available to me. One of the reasons why I found public service to be such an important calling was the chance to try and ensure that everyone in our society has access to those same opportunities as I did.

How do you define a leader?

I define a leader as someone who decides what is right based on their own sense of values and justice, and not based on which way the political winds are blowing. It is always easier to make a political decision, or any decision for that matter, when you have a crowd of supporters cheering you on. But sometimes in life you must defend a position that you believe in your heart to be right even if it is not politically popular or may cause you severe consequences. One of my political idols, President John F. Kennedy, described several of these cases in his seminal book “Profiles in Courage”. I believe the country lacks many true leaders these days, like leaders Martin Luther King Jr or Robert Kennedy who spoke out against social ills despite threats of violence. They believed in their hearts that what they are fighting for was just. Decisions in Washington these days are made solely to cause one party or the other to lose elections, not to do what’s in the best interest of the country.

What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?

After leaving office in 2017, I decided I wanted to take a more active role in getting the millennial generation active and interested in politics. It’s the generation I belong to, and as one of the first millennials elected to Congress, I felt a duty to make sure the issues that mattered to people my age; student debt, immigration, the environment, and the economy were being addressed by politicians who had been stuck fighting the same old political fights. To that end, I founded and serve as Chair of the Future Forum Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to studying the impact of my generation on politics. I have also spent the last 18 months traveling to college campuses around the country with a former Florida colleague of mine, Rep. David Jolly, to discuss ways in which Washington is deeply broken and to offer solutions. I hope that through these endeavors we are inspiring the next generation of leaders to get engaged in the political process and make some much-needed structural changes to our system, such as gerrymandering reform and getting dirty money out of politics.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?

I encourage everyone I meet to get politically active. If you’re angry with the way things are, as I was when I decided to run for Congress, you must find a way to make your voice heard. Find an issue that excites you; be it climate change, gun control, or campaign finance reform and find a way to make the changes you seek into reality. There are many ways to get involved. One doesn’t have to be in elected office like I was to make a difference. You can volunteer on a campaign, work for a non-profit organization, lobby the legislature, form a citizens group, or organize a letter-writing campaign to your local mayor or councilperson. But whatever it is, remember that your voice is vital.. but you have to use it.