Francisco Gonzalez is living the Florida dream. His father migrated to the Sunshine State from Cuba and his mother’s family migrated from the South and Midwest. His parents met as teenagers while working at a Winn-Dixie in Miami, but Francisco still swears by those Publix subs.
Born in Miami in 1978, Francisco was raised in Sunrise, a suburb in west Broward County. Attending a mix of public and private schools, he saw a huge difference between the two – a view that made him a firm believer that all families should be given more educational options. He remains eternally grateful for the sacrifices his own parents made to put he and his two younger brothers, Manny and Tony, through private school, when they could. While attending the legendary St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Francisco and his teammates won the 4A state tennis championship in 1994. During his four years, the Aquinas tennis team finished no worse than third in the state.
After graduating high school, Francisco moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida. Not sure of what he really wanted to major in, Francisco dabbled in psychology, hospitality management, and finally dropped out of college for a year while working at Disney World. After spending a year and a half in Fantasyland (literally, he worked in Fantasyland), Francisco decided it was time to return to reality and move back to South Florida.
Once there, he finished his A.A. degree at Broward Community College, where, to his surprise, he came across some really dedicated and inspiring professors, helping change his mind about the false perceptions he initially had about community colleges. “At BCC I had smaller class sizes and more access to teachers than I had during my time at UCF. In addition, there were students of all ages and backgrounds and they seemed more dedicated, more determined, and more grateful for the opportunity to get a college degree.” In addition to working at Disney World, Francisco held many jobs while he worked his way through college, including stints at a Taco Bell and telemarketing jobs in Orlando and two years at retail outlets in the world’s largest outlet mall (and 5th largest mall in the world), Sawgrass Mills, located in his hometown of Sunrise.
After temporarily being a college drop out for a year, Francisco finished strong, graduating cum laude from Florida Atlantic University in 2001 with a degree in history and a minor in Spanish. While at FAU, he also had the unique opportunity to spend five weeks studying abroad in an enriching experience in Salamanca, Spain.
In 2001, Francisco moved out of the state of Florida to purse a graduate degree in history at the University of Maryland. Just weeks later, the nation was rocked by the attacks of September 11, 2001 – a moment Francisco recalls vividly. “As my world was changing, moving as far away from my home state of Florida and as far from my family as I had ever been, the world itself was changing as well.”
During his time at Maryland, Francisco was constantly disturbed at the other attacks on America he experienced – in the classroom, in textbooks, and by those who attacked American Exceptionalism – from within. With a strong group of other concerned students, Francisco co-founded The Terrapin Times, a conservative student newspaper with the motto: “Informing, Not Conforming.” Francisco served the paper as News Editor and then Managing Editor before graduating with his M.A. in History in 2004. The Terrapin Times was a member paper of the Collegiate Network, a subsidiary of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). In 2004, the Collegiate Network awarded The Terrapin Times with its prestigious “Paper of the Year,” award, among nearly 100 similar papers on college campuses across the country.
Upon graduating from Maryland, Francisco went to work for ISI and served the Institute as its Director of Membership and Campus Leadership for three years. During that time, Francisco traveled to more than 30 states and visited hundreds of college campuses, introducing thousands of students to ISI’s work and providing mentorship to the next generation of young conservatives. Francisco served ISI for an additional six months as a development officer, helping to raise funds for ISI’s mission of “Educating for Liberty.”
In January 2008, Francisco returned to his beloved home state of Florida, moving to the state capital of Tallahassee to work for The James Madison Institute. Since that time, Francisco has served the premier free-market think tank in Florida in the role of Director of Development and most recently was promoted to Vice President of Advancement in 2012. For more than four years, Francisco has been helping JMI grow its budget, add new staff, and purchase a new downtown headquarters. Yet, as he will tell you much more work needs to be done on behalf of liberty.
“The next two generations will be left in debt and their future will be squandered if we don’t restore America’s founding principles and a commitment to fiscal responsibility,” said Francisco. “The work of JMI is not only to limit the role of government, as our founders intended, but also to provide practical free-market solutions for the numerous issues facing the people of Florida. JMI’s influence in Florida’s public policy arena needs to continue to expand and I am so grateful to be a part of this growth.”
Francisco doesn’t stop fighting for liberty even in his personal time. During the heightened political season of 2008, Francisco co-authored a book with two of his friends, Steve Bierfeldt and Brendan Steinhauser, titled Who is the Real Barack Obama? For the rising generation; by the rising generation. During his book tour, Francisco spoke on the campuses of Arizona State University, Florida State University, the University of Georgia, and Louisiana State University and appeared on many radio programs across the country.
Francisco was the primary organizer of the Tallahassee Tea Party, which brought together more than 2,000 people to Florida’s historic state capitol for a “Tax Day” tea party on April 15, 2009. From 2009-2012, Francisco was a Precinct Committeeman for the Leon County Republican Executive Committee. He was proud to be a member of the Capital City Republican Club and the Tallahassee Young Republicans. Frustrated by the limitations of politics, in late 2011, Francisco wrote a very thoughtful blog post in which he resigned himself from any future political involvement and decided to discontinue an active participation in political organizations. Yet, he continues to enjoy speaking to and supporting conservative causes, especially those on college campuses where the future of our country is being shaped.
In 2010, Francisco joined the Board of Directors of Project Veritas, an organization headed by his close friend, filmmaker and investigative journalist James O’Keefe. “James has been a hero of mine since I first met him when he was a college student at Rutgers. When he made national headlines in 2009, exposing ACORN, part of me felt like I always knew he was going to do something big. I just had no idea how big. My role in Project Veritas is simply to continue being James’ friend and confidant in his projects to expose corruption wherever it exists and to assist him as he works to train other citizen journalists to follow in his footsteps.”
Francisco also serves on the Board of Directors for Rock By The Sea, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to planning and producing music festivals and events that raise money to financially deserving charities that provide direct services to those in need. In 2013, Rock By The Sea is raising awareness and money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program at Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando and the Anchorage Children’s Home in Panama City. “Music has been a huge part of my life. I have been to hundreds of concerts since I was in high school. But it is so great to be part of something bigger than music and I’m so grateful music has moved so many people to be part of something bigger than themselves.”
Francisco is a dedicated servant to fostering a strong civil society. In his career as a fundraiser, he has learned the importance of voluntary charitable giving and how it changes lives. “There is a difference between being voluntarily charitable with dollars you’ve earned through your own hard work and being charitable with dollars forcefully taken from others through their hard work,” says Francisco. “This is why I believe so strongly in individual liberty and free markets. When you voluntarily give of your time, your talents, and your treasure, there is more self-worth for you and more of a connection formed between the donor and those in need. When government or any entity gives on your behalf, after taxing and taking your dollars by force, very little connection is made between the supporter and those on welfare. In fact, often times, resentment forms instead. We must all first be voluntary givers and then our argument to reduce the role of government will be strengthened throughout our society and a stronger civil society will take root.”
On top of all this, Francisco still finds time to play tennis competitively. “As a junior tennis player who played tennis since I was eight years old, there were days I hated tennis because of the demands it required of my time and the amount of hard work it took to stay competitive,” said Francisco. “But after getting back into tennis in my mid-20s, I can’t say that a day goes by that I don’t love it. Growing up playing with my dad and brother and with hundreds of top tennis players across Florida, tennis just became ingrained in me. It has taught me that discipline and hard work pay off – and more recently, it has taught me that there is more to life than work and politics. When I’m out on the court in the middle of a match, I am so focused on that match, I forget about everything else. And, it’s a great workout.” Francisco competes in locally in Tallahassee, often testing his skills among the top high school and college players in the area, and is currently rated a 5.0 tennis player.
Francisco has traveled to three Grand Slam tennis tournaments in his life. “I’ve watched Pete Sampras play on Centre Court at Wimbledon (in 2000), Roger Federer play at the French Open (in 2004) and numerous top players compete at the U.S. Open (in 2002, 2004, and 2010),” said Francisco. “Watching players compete at the top level amazes me, especially when I can get a front row seat. What some of these guys can do on a tennis court just blows me away.” In 2013, Francisco was finally able to make it to a Davis Cup match between the United States and Brazil, which took place in Jacksonville. He is willing and ready to head to the Australian Open with any willing travel buddies to complete his “fan” Grand Slam.
Francisco’s other activities include watching college football, reading, running, working out, and hitting the beach. “There is nothing more beautiful about Florida than the numerous beaches we have. And there is nothing better than laying out on a beach, reading a book, and listening to the waves crash the shores. As one of my favorite Florida bands, Sister Hazel, likes to sing, “Where I come from, it’s a little like heaven.”
“Many of my political friends constantly ask me when I’m moving back to D.C.,” commented Francisco. “I laugh when they ask that. There is no place I’d rather be than Florida. I want to spend the rest of my life living the Florida dream.”