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    Thursday, December 31, 2009

    2009: My Year in Review - Forever Young

    Where did this year go?

    In 2009, I began the year with my January 13th birthday. Turning 31, I declared at my birthday party that "31 is the new 21." By year's end, that little joke would turn out to ring true. I got more competitive on the tennis court, I partied with musicians and attended many more musical performances than I had in years, and in Tallahassee, I helped organize thousands of people to come together to take on the forces of big government in a series of "tea parties." So here's a little run through some of the more memorable moments of my year:

    In January and February, I saw my Terps and Canes basketball teams come to town. One advantage living in Seminole country is that my ACC teams play here often. Unfortunately, I saw them both lose to a pretty good FSU basketball team. The year was redeemed for me on Labor Day night with a classic Miami win over FSU, decided on a last second play. It was one of the best football games I've ever been to, with a constant back and forth in the score and with my Canes prevailing. Perhaps the neatest thing was seeing more than 20,000 Miami Hurricane fans don the orange and green in Tallahassee and attended a pre-game UM celebration.

    In February, I took a trip to Washington, D.C. to see a lot of friends and timed my trip perfectly with the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. This was my fifth time attending CPAC in the past 6 years. During that week, I also attended the first round of tea parties of 2009 and the first tea party (we know of) that took place outside the White House on February 27. About 300 patriots came together that day and my friends Brendan Steinhauser, John O'Hara, and J.P. Freire were the primary organizers. I stayed with Brendan while I was in D.C. and got snowed in for two days. During that time, I plotted and planned with him and was determined to bring the "tea party" movement to Tallahassee. While "snowed-in in DC," I also gave a short lecture at the Heritage Foundation during a special "Conservatism on Tap" event.

    Upon my return to Tallahassee, I had two goals: have a tea party on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) and try to get 300 people there. Then, use that as a jumping point for a Tax Day Tea Party (April 15) and get 1,000 people there. The first goal was nearly accomplished, with about 225 people attending and plenty of media attention. But that generated the momentum for April 15. Somehow, someway, we organized well and on April 15, more than 2,000 people showed up to the grounds of Florid'as Historic State Capitol. I was the primary organizer of the event and I also served as the event's emcee, which was really cool. To look out and see that many people - to rally that many people - for the cause of liberty, was an incredible feeling.

    More than 1,000 such tea parties were held simultaneously across the nation that day. We helped create a movement - and are now part of the biggest push back against big government perhaps since our nation's founding and the first tea party of 1773.

    The tea parties were a reaction to the gigantic growth in government over the past two years, between the "Bush-Obama" bailouts, and now they continue to be a force to fight against the continued government intervention in the economy - whether that be in the area of health care, energy policy, or other regulatory and reckless spending. We cannot push our country any further into debt than it already is. I believe we've reached a breaking point, and the tea party movement has come about to say "enough is enough." Throughout 2009, the Tallahassee Tea Party persisted and has become a large part of the tea party movement.

    I did some other traveling this year - mostly related to my job as Director of Development at The James Madison Institute as well as opportunities to come together with others in the conservative movement. (It's hard to believe I'm now wrapping up my full second year with the Institute!)

    In late March, I drove over to New Orleans for annual national meeting of The Philadelphia Society, an intellectually conservative group of which I am proud to be a member for the past few years. At that meeting, scholars discussed the future of conservatism and how to bring conservative principles into the 21st century.

    In September, I drove to Charleston, SC - my first time there - for a Development Director's retreat hosted by the State Policy Network. I got together with my colleagues in the state-based free-market movement and discussed how to raise more money and grow our organizations' capacities. In November, I traveled with 4 of my colleagues to Asheville, NC and attended the annual meeting of the State Policy Network. More than 600 people attended this year, representing every state think tank in the country. This meeting is always really neat because there is someone from every state in the Union represented. We share best practices and learn from one another about what is working (and what isn't) for free-marketers in the various states.

    In August, I traveled to Maryland for a special retreat for about 50 young professional conservatives across the country. I then visited my friends and former colleagues at my old job at ISI in Delaware and then hung out in D.C. for a few days, getting the opportunity to watch some high quality professional tennis at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic - we saw 7 of the top 20 players on the same day, including Fernando Gonzalez, Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Robredo, and Lleyton Hewitt, among others.

    In the past few years, I have been playing more tennis than I have since I was a junior player. This year, I really stepped it up more by playing more and I competed once again in the USTA's 4.5 league here in Tallahassee. This year, our regionals was held in Tallahassee and I had to play 4 singles matches in 3 days - I won 3 of them - all tough matches. Down two players, our team tied for first with the Jacksonville team, yet it wasn't enough. When they went to the "tiebreaker" we lost one more set than Jacksonville, and weren't able to advance. However, I really proved to myself that I could play 4 tennis matches in the same 3 days and play at a high quality level - in July! I was even filmed for a spot on the local Tallahassee news, which showed some of my points.

    As I write this, I have just went out and visited my old training ground at Bill Clark's tennis academy in Cooper City, FL. I was out there this week - at the age of 31 - training with some top college and junior tennis players and hanging in there. (And hey, they don't have full time jobs)

    My year was also defined by music. I attended the Rock By The Sea charitable music festival on St. George Island. I had never been to SGI before, but this year I made it there 4 times. My first time was for the festival at the end of March. Beautiful weather, great music, good times. I was introduced to some great bands: Sam Thacker and Wideawake becoming some of my friends - and Sam Thacker (and his crew including Michael Westbrook) becoming good friends in the process. I hung out with Sam and his crew 4 different weekends on SGI this year, rocking out at Harry A's, getting in some good beach time, and sleeping it off at the unique beach houses on SGI. One of those weekends was for Rock By The Sea "Lite" in the fall, which benefits Sister Hazel's "Lyrics for Life" charity.

    Speaking of Sister Hazel, I got to meet them too. Sam opened up for them in November in Tallahassee. And, my brother Manny (who had just returned from Kentucky was on his way back south on his move back to South Florida) and I found ourselves at the bar with all them later, with Sister Hazel buying us drinks. Pretty cool. Just weeks before on Halloween, I dressed up as a "rock star" and saw Sam open for Corey Smith at Potbelly's in Tallahassee. Even got to hang out with Corey Smith after. Yea, I felt like a rock star all year long - from the tea parties, the tennis competitions, and hanging out with musicians. So I thought, why not just dress up the way I feel?

    And how can you not feel like a rock star when you have 250 plus followers - on Twitter that is. I joined this new social networking device and it's become the new way I get almost all my news, at least initially. I first found out about the death of Michael Jackson and the hysterics of "Balloon Boy" on Twitter. Politically, I share lots of information on Twitter and get a lot of updates from the 75 or so people I follow - all via my mobile device. At the end of 2008 I had purchased the Blackberry Storm - my first blackberry ever - and it definitely has "altered" my life in new and interesting ways in 2009 - still not sure its always for the better. What happened to the phone call? It seems all we communicate over now is texts and tweets.

    This past August, my paternal grandfather passed away. Due to traveling at the time of his passing (and the insanely fast turn around on his funeral arrangements) I wasn't able to get to his funeral. But a few weeks later I visited his grave in Miami with my grandmother, who survives him. She is the last grandparent I still have alive. His death, at the age of 89, reminded me of all the sacrifices he made for his family - bringing them from Cuba in 1960 and starting a new life in a country. It reinforces for me why I do what I do - promoting liberty and a free economy. He sacrificed so much for it - and thought more about the next generation of his own family.

    Well as the year draws to a close, I am writing this blog from my parents home in Delray Beach, FL. I feel like I have spent so much more time in South Florida this year than I have in perhaps as many as 8 years. For six and half years (2001-2008) I lived outside Florida (in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania). Since moving to Tallahassee, I find myself all over the state and the ability to get back to South Florida for work and to visit my family is a bit easier (despite the 6 and a half hour drive each way). But this year, I spent almost a week here during Thanksgiving and now I'm down here for two weeks for Christmas and for some JMI events.

    As we look towards 2010, we have a hopeful year ahead at JMI - we are contracting to buy a new building and have a downtown Tallahassee headquarters, we are putting up a new website (any day!) and we will be hiring new staff to help us do more on behalf of the principles we believe will help our state during these challenging times and in the future.

    In 2010, we must win our country back. JMI does not get involved in the direct political process (candidates or lobbying, etc). But as for me, the number one man of the year I'll be supporting is Marco Rubio to represent the state of Florida in the U.S. Senate!

    Next week at this time, I'll be boarding my first cruise ever - The Rock Boat! It's a 4-night Carnival cruise that will take us from Tampa to Cozumel. The added bonus: there are like 25 bands coming with us and there will be wall-to-wall concerts and fun all day and night. It's going to be nuts. 2009 ended with me feeling that 31 is the new 21 ... and we're bringing that rock star status right into the new year.

    Let's see if 2010 can live up to all the hopeful expectations. But thanks 2009 - you wore me out at my ripe old age of 31, but you made me feel young again. Thanks for the memories!