Jim was first elected to Ards Borough Council in 1985 and served as Mayor in 1991/92.
He was elected as a member of the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue in 1996 until it completed its work in 1998. He was then subsequently elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly representing Strangford.
Within the Assembly Jim served on both the Public Accounts Committee and Agriclture Committee. He was re-elected in both 2003 and 2007, stepping down from the Assembly in 2010 after he was elected to Parliament.
Jim was elected to Parliament at the General Election of 2010 where he received nearly 15,000 votes, with the next closest unionist receiving just over 9,000. He was again re-elected in 2015.