As a kid in Anchorage, Alaska, Holly Merrill had two main interests: sledding and dancing.
She started her freshman year of college at Florida State University with plans to major in dancing, but immediately turned to her other interest that developed in her teenage years: politics.
“Dancing had always been my true love, but I figured out right away it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career,” she laughed, adding that her grandfather is a total patriot to whom she spent a lot of time listening about the importance of government and the constitution.
“I guess that slowly fostered a love of government in me, but I’ve truly grown to love the political process,” she explained. “I wish everyone would jump on my band wagon and treasure – despite its faults – our form of government and country.”
This is a woman who works hard to get what she wants.
After promptly switching her major to Political Science, Holly landed a job in her junior year as a full time lobbyist.
In 2002, she was deep in the throws of direct legislative lobbying, legislative research, analysis and monitoring, report writing and legislative committee testimony for Robert M. Levy & Associates, Inc. while still attending classes.
So just how did this Alaska native make her way to Florida?
Her father and his family were natives of Central Florida before he was diagnosed at a young age with cystic fibrosis. His doctors advised the family that Florida’s year-round humidity did not offer a suitable climate for treating the disease that produces mucus in the lungs and can lead to life-threatening infections.
“They suggested either Arizona or Alaska because of the dry air,” she said. “He needed dry air, and my grandfather was interested in bush piloting, so they went to Alaska.”
Her mother, a Michigan-born Alaska transplant, moved with her family in the midst of the country’s recovery following the Great Depression and WWII.
As a child, Holly always spent their vacation time in her father’s native Florida. When the time came for her to complete her college applications, she knew she wanted to return to her roots.
“I always loved it here and really felt it was where I wanted to be,” she said.
Her decision proved a fruitful one since her path from lobbyist to senior legislative assistant has thus far been solid and fruitful.
With two years of full time experience already under her belt upon graduation in 2003, Holly interviewed with Dr. Ken Sorensen of the Florida House of Representatives and was immediately offered a position as District Aide.
“I packed everything from my little college apartment into a U-Haul truck and drove down here, site unseen,” she remembered. “I’d never even been to the Keys before!”
Holly quickly advanced to Senior District Aide in charge of Constituent Services, where she was responsible for listening to and addressing voters concerns on the ground. It was in those years that she became actively involved with a number of community service organizations.
While working in the state representative’s office, it was announced that PACE Center for Girls Monroe County was going to be shut down because it didn’t serve a large enough population to continue receiving state funding, or rather, “didn’t have the numbers.” PACE’s mission is to provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.
“That’s a portion of the population that you pay for now or you pay for later,” Holly said emphatically about the girls and young women that statewide organization serves.
The Keys Center for Girls now continues PACE’s mission in their own capacity with outposts in Key West, Marathon and Coral Shores High Schools, serving essentially as a dropout prevention program.
She also chairs the Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition.
“Babies and moms are another part of the population that often gets overlooked,” she added, citing pregnancy prevention and education as another passion.
With the Florida Legislature currently in session, Holly said these days, keeping Rep. Ron Saunders calendar in order is half the battle of her current job as Senior Legislative Assistant.
Besides overseeing lobbyist relations, she also drafts and files legislation in addition to presenting bills and amendments in Committee Hearings.
A large majority of her time, however, is still spent responding to both complaints and requests from constituents and solving issues at the State level.
“Of course, there’s a little bit of socializing involved,” she laughed, adding that she honestly wouldn’t change a thing. “I love it as an FSU graduate and political junkie.”
On January 30, Holly married her longtime beau and partner in crime, Ryan Raschien, owner of Milestone Shutters South, LLC, in a gorgeous waterfront ceremony in Key Largo surrounded by tons of family and friends.
She admitted that being a newly wed with an obligation to spend a lot of time in Tallahassee is tragic, but after five years of courtship, the couple has accepted it as a fact of life.
“We get to see each other just about every other weekend,” Holly said. “He’s a real trooper and so supportive of me in all my obligations. He’s a true partner and my true love.”