“Oh, why are we keeping score? Cause if you’re not laughing, who is laughing now? I’ve been wondering if we stop sinking, could we stand our ground? And through everything we’ve learned, we’ve finally come to terms, we are the outsiders.” – Needtobreathe
2011 has been a heck of a year. I’ve gone from coast to coast – twice. I’ve gone up the east coast to our nation’s capital, down to South Florida, and even hit Texas – also twice. I’ve taken to the seas on a rockin’ boat and I’ve even rocked by the sea – more than twice. Here in Florida, we outsiders rocked the political establishment, only to get rocked back by wild allegations and a topsy turvy Republican Presidential primary that is still anyone’s guess. I’ve met countless cool new people, reunited with old friends, and had fun with longtime friends and colleagues alike. I’m serving on boards of two non-profits and helping things move forward with the one I work for full-time here in Tallahassee. So as I’ve become accustomed to doing at the end of every year, let’s begin another year in review…
In January, the year began by attending the inauguration of Governor Rick Scott. He was someone I supported in the primary in 2010. An outsider, he never held political office. But he came in with a bold agenda and he hasn’t budged much. By the end of the first legislative session under Governor Scott and a two-thirds Republican state legislature, many great reforms were passed especially in education, Medicaid, and public employee pensions, as well as major spending cuts to the budget and lower tax rates. That’s quite a difference from what’s going on in Washington, D.C. When Governor Scott took office in January, Florida’s unemployment rate was 12%. As I write on the final days of the year, it has since dropped to 10%. It’s still too high, but it’s moving in the right direction – as is our state, under Governor Scott’s leadership.
A few days after his inauguration, I returned for my second adventure on The Rock Boat. This time we didn’t know where we were going until our Carnival cruise ship was leaving the Port of Tampa. That’s when Sister Hazel, the headlining band of The Rock Boat XI told us we would be heading to Costa Maya, Mexico. When we got there, the weather was perfect. I went with my current roommate Matt and my friends Erin Choy and Lee Whitesell. Of course, other friends joined the ride and our friend Sam Thacker played a few sets on the boat. We listened to the sounds of bands like Needtobreathe who sang songs like “The Outsiders.”
Somewhere at the beginning of the year, I also joined the board of directors of Rock by the Sea, a great Florida-based charity organization that organizes music festivals (usually by the sea) to help fight pediatric cancer as well as support a few other similar causes. In February, I helped organize a Tallahassee event for Rock by the Sea at one of my favorite venues, the 5th Avenue Tap Room. We had the Stevie Monce Band and Maurice Mangum play the show, which raised some money and awareness.
February also marked an end to the space shuttle program. While this was a monumental event for the world and particularly America, it was especially tough for Floridians and the Space Coast economy. I have grown up with the space shuttle and now the program has been shut down as NASA looks to change gears and redefine space exploration. I am a big fan of us humans continuing to explore the “final frontier” as outsiders in the universe. It has led to new discoveries and continues to challenge our creative, exploratory spirit! February 6 was also the 100th birthday of one of my heroes and former political outsider, President Ronald Reagan. At The James Madison Institute, we dedicated one of our “Madison Movie Nights” at Florida State University to the Gipper’s centennial birthday celebration by showing the film, “In the Face of Evil,” which documents Reagan’s life-long fight against and ultimate triumph over communism.
I also proudly serve on another non-profit’s board of directors, that of Project Veritas, led by my friend James O’Keefe, a radical outsider who continues to challenge the status quo and inspire citizen journalists across this country. In March, Project Veritas exposed the biases of executives at National Public Radio (NPR) in another famous undercover video investigation. Within days, the President of NPR and a Senior Vice President were forced to resign. Within weeks the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund NPR. This was huge. Throughout the year, Project Veritas launched many more investigations and I can tell you there is more to expose in what will be an historic 2012.
Also, in March, I spent a great weekend with some friends in Miami Beach. We had dinner one evening at a great restaurant inside the Fontainebleau Hotel, went to a New World symphony performance, hit the beach, and stayed at the Eden Roc hotel. I seemed to luck out incredibly with good weather at many destinations all year long.
In April, I was slowed down just a bit – by a sudden surprise. I had a mild form of appendicitis. But the pains in my stomach didn’t feel so mild. It seemed to happen so fast. After a couple days of check ups at the doctor, I was diagnosed. And as soon as they diagnose you for appendicitis, they want to throw you on the operating table. Within hours, I found myself in a surgery room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital (TMH). Just minutes before my surgery, however, my mother arrived. She had driven 6 1/2 hours from Delray Beach to Tallahassee, barely stopping, so she could try to get there in time for my surgery. What a great mother! My boss, Bob McClure, also stopped by the hospital just hours before I went into surgery to keep me some company. I have a great boss. And, after surgery, my mother was by my side in my hospital room and stayed with me for several days in Tallahassee. She thought she might have to cook for me, but then the ladies in my office had gone out, on boss’s orders, and secured a great number of food items for me and mother – plenty of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items for more than three or four days worth of food. I have great colleagues. I even have some funny friends. Within hours after surgery, my appendicitis had a Twitter account.
While the appendicitis was not welcome, I can tell you it helped me reflect on all that I should be grateful for. My life is constantly fast paced between work, working out, playing tennis, traveling, going out, and having fun. But when it comes down to what matters most, when you have time to stop and reflect, you realize how grateful you should be for your life, your health, and the great people that surround you. And it also made me realize how important our health is to everything we do in life. The staff and surgeons at TMH were really amazing. I was very impressed.
The appendicitis was also well timed – it was after a very busy few weeks of work (including several events I had to be at around Florida) and two weeks before Rock by the Sea Five, which was held once again on beautiful St. George Island, FL. We had great performances by headliners Shawn Mullins, Chuck Cannon, and the Alternate Routes, among many others. The Alternate Routes were the best band I discovered in 2011. What a great sound. I expect big things. I also always love SGI, but now RBTS has gotten so popular it is outgrowing the little, lost island on Florida’s “Forgotten Coast.” So, this will be the last major RBTS festival event on SGI as we are moving the April event over to Panama City Beach in 2012. However, we will still hold smaller scale events on SGI – and definitely continue to relive the good times there. Be prepared for both a weekend of music and golf sometime in September 2012 on SGI. In the meantime, prepare to experience Florida’s best beaches in Panama City as we welcome our 2012 headliners, NeedtoBreathe!
Later in April, I flew out to Dallas, Texas for the Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank meeting. I usually attend this with some of my colleagues almost every year on behalf of The James Madison Institute (they move the Resource Bank meeting to different states from year to year). At the event, I made many connections and even met Governor Rick Perry. He was the keynote speaker for the dinner one evening. During a book signing before dinner, I was able to have a nice chat with him. I almost wanted to tell him to run for President. I didn’t, and he did anyway. Now, I’m still kind of glad I didn’t. It hasn’t worked out so well for him…so far.
From Dallas, I flew to San Francisco for an extended weekend (try four nights) to visit my brother Tony, who moved out there earlier this year. He has one of the best jobs ever – a sports writer for the Associated Presss, covering everything from Stanford football, the San Francisco 49ers, Golden State Warriors, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco Giants, San Jose Sharks, golf and tennis tournaments, swim meets, and everything in between. He was a great tour guide as we visited all of the city’s major attractions, including Alcatraz. One of the highlights was riding bikes around the city and right across the Golden Gate Bridge! It was such a feeling of “awe” on a gorgeous San Francisco Day. We also spent a day touring a number of wineries in the famous Napa Valley.
While in San Francisco, April turned into May and on May 1, as my brother and I prepared to get ready to have dinner with some friends I have in the area, we learned that Osama Bin Laden had been captured and killed by U.S. forces. While it’s never appropriate to celebrate someone else’s death, there was a feeling of jubilation in the air that the madman that was behind the deaths of thousands of fellow Americans on 9/11 (and other attacks around the world) was finally captured. We were just months away from the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. While the “war on terror” seems to drag on with no end, this event did provide a sense of closure, capturing an enemy who had been on the run. Justice finally prevailed.
I wasn’t back in Tallahassee very long, as I drove all the way down to Palm Beach county – for just a day and a half – to see my brother Manny graduate from Palm Beach State College. It was a very proud moment as I know he has worked long and hard for this degree. It was one of the proudest moments I had all year.
On Memorial Day weekend, I ventured once again down to St. George Island with some friends for a weekend of music, listening to our friend Sam Thacker play at Harry A’s and getting in some quality time at the beach.
In June, I ventured to Atlanta for a State Policy Network development retreat, and even got there two days earlier to hang with some friends in the city. From there, I flew off to Washington, D.C. for some fun and a few business-related meetings. While there, I had a personal meeting with my Congressman, Representative Steve Southerland. We had a one-on-one chat in his office for about 20 minutes – a very cool experience. Steve is a great guy – certainly an outsider to the way things are typically done in DC. He recognizes the support the tea party played in helping him unseat 7-term incumbent Allen Boyd in November 2010 and he is a big fan of The James Madison Institute. A few months after our meeting, I received a personal phone call from Steve. He just wanted to call to chat. After hanging up the phone that day, my first thought was: “Wow, I couldn’t get my last Congressman on the phone, now I’ve got one that is calling me.” After that call – and after the meeting in his office in June – I felt that all the time and hard work we had put into the tea party movement had been a monumental success – we had changed Washington one person at a time. We did our part in our district.
Following the meeting with Steve Southerland, I went to my next meeting in Senator Marco Rubio’s office. While I wasn’t able to meet with the Senator, I did meet with about five members of his policy staff, who continued to ask me questions about many issues. Senator Rubio is another big fan of JMI – as Speaker of the House in Florida he would work with us closely on many issues. It was nice to see his staff so engaged with us as well. It was also pretty cool to come back to DC – and for the first time in my life – visit the offices of my personal representatives there, and to do so in style. I also visited during a very timely moment in our nation’s history – as Congress debated raising the “debt ceiling” once again.
During the trip to DC, I also visited the “Florida House” for the first time – our state’s one of a kind “embassy” in our nation’s capital. No other state has something like this. I also got together with fellow board members of Project Veritas for an official meeting and met up with many friends that week. One of my friends, Jeff Frazee, and I even took a trip down to Orange, VA to visit “Montpelier,” the home of James Madison. It was the first time either of us had visited the home of the Father of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and co-author of the Federalist Papers. There was no more fitting patriot to take this visit with. I greatly admire Jeff and the dedication he has put into fostering an appreciation for liberty among the next generation as President and founder of the national group, Young Americans for Liberty.
My summer plans included mixing work and fun. In August, we held our first meeting of JMI’s Panama City Board of Advisors as well as two JMI “happy hour” style events in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Then, just days later, I took a flight to Seattle to attend the State Policy Network’s annual meeting. This is where I meet up with all our colleagues and friends at sister free-market think tanks. It was great to see so many fellow patriots. After that was over, I left my hotel in Bellevue, WA and headed to downtown Seattle to meet up with my brother Tony, who had just flown in from San Francisco.
We spent an extended weekend in Seattle – going to the Space Needle, attending a Mariners game from about 20 rows behind home plate, two nights on the town, and a bicycle tour of the city on a splendid summer day in Seattle. On our final day – and my final day on the west coast this year – we took a drive down to Mt. Rainier – and hiked all around it – even standing in snow (while wearing shorts and sneakers) on a 70 plus degree day.
After coming back to the east coast, my September was quite lively as well. I was in Orlando for work for a day and on the way back, I stopped in Gainesville for a football game. My new friend Taylor Biehl and I got access to the President’s box for the Gator game. Pretty neat. A few days later, I took a trip out to Austin, Texas for a retreat with some conservative friends at the Lost Pines Resort. I got there a day early to hang out with my friend Adam Buhrman and his wife Rosa who live in Austin and showed me around the city, taking in some live music in the live music capital of the world. When the retreat was over at the end of the weekend, I flew right to Tampa, and then drove down to St. Pete Beach – a new favorite Florida place. I got there about half way through the Rock by the Sea “Sunday Funday” event featuring Emerson Hart, the lead singer from the band Tonic, among a few other acts that day. I listened to music in a pool and enjoyed the evening on St. Pete Beach.
The next few days in the Tampa-St. Pete-Sarasota area, I met up with some donors, spoke to about 200 people at the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee, and even had an opportunity to have lunch with Presidential candidate Herman Cain. After engaging with him in a small group for about an hour, he sold me. He had my vote and he would go on to win the Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando later that week. I attended Presidency 5 as a voting delegate and I also attended and spoke on a panel at the first ever CPAC Florida event that coincided with the straw poll. Every Presidential candidate running for the Republican nomination was there that week. It was really neat to see Herman Cain “take off” and surprise everyone by winning that straw poll.
Over the next few months, I would get on board the Cain Train officially, being asked to serve as the Leon County Chair for the Herman Cain for President campaign (what an honor!) But as the campaign swung into full gear, the train derailed amid allegations that Mr. Cain had engaged in extra marital affairs and was accused of bogus sexual harassment claims. Not sure what the real story is, but it looked like this outsider was taken down by the insiders that were afraid of his bold policy solutions to put America back on the right path. The entire experience left me frustrated, rethinking my personal involvement in electoral politics altogether. In December I wrote a lengthy piece, “The Train Ends Here, Exit Right,” which was read by hundreds of people (maybe thousands) across Florida and beyond. I received so much positive feedback, that I knew I had only put into words what so many fellow Americans were feeling about the entire political process.
But let’s back this train up a bit. I got ahead of myself. In October, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began. Apparently a bunch of leftists wanted to create their own tea party-like movement. Unfortunately, they’re out of touch with most Americans, but it’s nice to see they are finally just as frustrated with the Wall Street bailouts. They have just misdirected their anger at Wall Street – the government is the one that bailed them out. I went and took a look at the “Occupy Tallahassee” protest going on outside our state capitol and I found it amusing, not serious. Just a few months later, this movement seems to be dying down. Perhaps the “occupiers” think it’s too cold outside now.
In October and November my Terps and Canes came to town only to both get beaten by a better FSU football team. For the most part, it was not my year in sports. FAU, Miami, and Maryland – none of them look very good in football. The Dolphins started out like 0-7 and looked poised to compete for the #1 draft pick. But later in the season they began to turn it on under quarterback Matt Moore. I have some hope for them. In the summer, my Miami Heat came close to winning a championship under the “Big 3” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, but the Mavericks got the better of them. And just when it looked like the NBA might be on strike for good this year, they got back to work.
In fact, in mid-December, things started looking very good for South Florida sports. The Marlins traded for some great new players, the Heat is the favorite to win the NBA championship, and even the Florida Panthers are leading in their division. It’s still early for all these teams, but maybe we’re starting to turn it around after being outsiders for quite some time now.
In November, I was invited to speak to the Collegiate Network’s annual student editors conference, held this year in Orlando. This is where I began my own conservative movement journey – when I co-founded a conservative newspaper at the University of Maryland. It was neat to meet the two current editors of the paper and see the old rag still kickin’ at one of my alma maters. Later that month, my parents came to visit me as I hosted Thanksgiving Day dinner in Tallahassee (truth be told, my mom still did all the cooking!), with them and a family friend, Bill Johnson. My mom even helped me put up some Christmas lights, which are getting better year by year. Earlier in the day, I ran the Turkey Trot – and my second ever 10K. This time, my goal was to get under 50 minutes – and I did, coming in at 49:52. The race takes place in my Southwood neighborhood. Speaking of which, I have now lived in my Southwood home for more than three years. Wow, time really flies – especially when you’re running around this fast!
In December, I traveled to Atlanta for a lengthy weekend for the second annual Rock by the Sea Christmas CD release show, where we had about seven musicians/bands perform throughout the night and sold copies of A Rock by the Sea Christmas: Volume Two.
My year ended well – as it always does – visiting South Florida to see my family and catch up with some friends. My tennis game isn’t too shabby. But even after four months off, my old roommate JY (who is now living in Miami) still handled me pretty well on the court. But this time, for the first time ever, at least I got a set. Not a bad result against perhaps the best player in FSU tennis history. I continue to chase down those Seminoles from here in Tallahassee. And in the last week of the year, I even accomplished a New Year’s resolution from last year: I played a round of golf. Well, I played 11 holes (we ran out of daylight). I only lost two balls to the water and shot 80 for the equivalent of a par 44 for the 11 holes. Not bad. I think I’ve grown some interest in picking up a new game. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Here’s to 2011. I was jamming with the outsiders on the Rock Boat. I was amazed that we got some outsiders elected and in high political positions. I was enthused we might get an outsider into the White House and then frustrated when he was run out of the race. And I hope to continue to be inspired by sports, music, charity, and the timeless cause of the pursuit of liberty. In the long history of mankind, that pursuit certainly makes us … the outsiders. Cheers to 2011! It was grand.