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    Friday, December 31, 2010

    2010: My Rockin' Year in Review

    2010 has been an up and down year. For Florida it began with a cold snap. For me, it began on The Rock Boat! What an unbelievable experience that was. We set sail out of Tampa on January 7 for 4 unforgettable nights aboard the Carnival Inspiration. Sister Hazel headlined the “floating music festival” that had about 25 other bands on it. Some new favorites for me by the time the cruise was over included Green River Ordinance, Marc Broussard, and Stephen Kellog & The Sixers. And it was great getting to see so much more Sister Hazel and Wideawake, as well as bands like Augustana live for the first time. And who can forget Tyrone Wells, Gaelic Storm and Jupiter’s own reggae band, B-Liminal?

    Well after sailing to Cozumel and back to Tampa, we returned to Tallahassee. Days later, a massive earthquake hit Haiti and brought back images from that poverty stricken country. It seems like a nation of hopelessness with all the doom and destruction they have faced in their history. My roommate Salomon, a native of Haiti, had several family members pass away and others who had amazing survival stories. America once again showed how charitable we are, as thousands of Americans and billions of American dollars poured into Haiti to help. The media covered this story for weeks, but as the year went on, the public’s attention drowned out. The struggles of Haiti continue.

    In late January, I was invited to attend a weekend colloquia in Arlington, VA provided by the Institute for Humane Studies. The theme of the weekend was “F.A. Hayek on Liberty.” We were required to read most of Hayek’s “The Constitution of Liberty” and a few other essays. It was a privilege to be a part of this seminar and I learned so much about spontaneous order, among other Hayekian economic theories. I also was able to meet up with a few friends in DC. I almost didn’t get a chance to see my buddy Jeff Frazee, but then bad weather in my connecting city of Atlanta forced an extra day stay in DC. So, Jeff and his wife Amanda put me up for the night.

    It’s hard to keep going chronologically with this year, but I’ll try to whip through some major experiences and memories.

    Earlier this year, I began a Bible study in the Great Adventure Bible Timeline program. Through 24 weeks (that’s 24 Monday nights), we read through 14 books of the Bible (and then some). 12 Old Testament books and 2 New Testament books (Luke and Acts), not to mention the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was an amazing experience and it increased my knowledge of my faith. Every Christian (especially us Catholics) should do this. I totally recommend it. Each week, we met in a small group and had an hour long discussion. Then we joined with a larger group of about 50 people and watched a seminar on DVD by Jeff Cavins. That ended in August. In October, I started a new 24-week course. It is much lighter reading. We are simply reading through the Book of Matthew (with some minor supplemental reading). We’re about 6 weeks in and I’m really enjoying it.

    This was also my third full year working as Director of Development for The James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank. This was also the Institute’s most successful year on record. Our budget increased substantially. We hired a full-time staff member and added two part-time staff members. We began raising money for a new downtown Tallahassee headquarters (which we plan to close on in January 2011 and move in by summer 2011). Our President was named to the Governor-Elect’s economic transition team. JMI has a staff member, scholar, or board member on every transition team in Florida’s new executive cabinet. And we have more members than ever and are producing studies relevant to Florida’s economic future.

    My work with JMI this year took me all over Florida, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa, Sarasota, Bradenton, Naples, The Villages, and Pensacola. Perhaps a few places in between.

    I attended the Heritage Foundation’s annual “Resource Bank” meeting, held this year at the Turnberry Isle Resort in North Miami Beach this year. JMI held a reception at their meeting and welcomed hundreds of free-marketers to South Florida in style. The highlighted speeches included Ted Cruz, former Solicitor General of Texas, and Billie Tucker, director of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville. The Heritage Foundation embraced the tea party with the theme of this year’s conference: “From Tea Parties to Taking Charge.”

    In September, I traveled to Ohio for the State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting in Cleveland. Not really a city to write home about. But, it was a great meeting as usual. The highlighted speeches included Jeb Bush and Scott Rasumussen, among others.

    The weekend before the SPN conference, my buddy Matt Harrison (who runs a think tank in California) and I met up in Columbus, OH to see our Canes take on the mighty Buckeyes of Ohio State. We had a great night out on the town, attended a Canes pre-party and really enjoyed Columbus on a game weekend. I was also fortunate enough to get some great seats provided by a great friend in Ohio. (Thanks Josh!) But that was about it. The Canes had a good first half and the rest of the game -- and the rest of the season -- was all downhill. In 2011, they will have a new coach. I hope he can provide us with the “Golden” touch. I hate to say it, but the Canes may not ever be the same without the Orange Bowl. Their program is in such disarray it makes me cry inside. And sometimes outside.

    After an overall great weekend in Columbus, Matt and I drove up to Cleveland early in order to spend a few hours on our Sunday afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was amazing, and by far the best attraction in Cleveland. The city feels like a ghost town on the weekends and evenings. But this museum was worth the visit to Cleveland simply to revisit and learn about the role that rock n’ roll has played in American history and culture.

    Speaking of music...let’s back track a bit here...

    I spent two great weekends in what has become one of my favorite places in Florida: the Suwanneee River Music Park in Live Oak, FL. In late March, I went to “Springfest” for one night and one morning, crashed at a camp site with some new friends, and saw my boys Scythian perform 3 times in less than 18 hours. What a treat. I went back in late October for “Magnolia Fest” and while Scythian didn’t play that one, we were still treated to some great music. I seem to now be running into some of the other regulars to this incredibly amazing Southern festival. And I can’t say no to the fried oreos.

    This was also another year to Rock By The Sea. I returned to the festival this April for some good times with my friends Mike Williams, Matt Farrar, festival organizers Beth Gosnell, Gail Harkins, Ed Moore, and Rick Watson. And now I’m sort of a volunteer and official “ambassador” for Rock By The Sea, which raises money to fight pediatric brain cancer. We also brought our friend Erin Choy with us this time and now she’s a Rock By The Sea’r for life I think. It was also great to have my brotherManny drive all the way up from South Florida to spend the weekend with me and enjoy the great music, incredible weather, beautiful beach, and great times. It was a blast! Festival favorite Sam Thacker and his band also provided great tunes. A few of us were privileged to return to “the island” several times over the summer to hang with Sam, the band, and enjoy SGI some more.

    2010 was also filled with politics... as Americans became more engaged than ever.

    In March, the government takeover of health care became even more intrusive. As if we aren’t spending enough on Medicare and Medicaid, now the federal government “mandated” that all citizens be required to carry health insurance. And they required all insurers cover everyone - including those with pre-existing conditions. What does that mean? Health insurance becomes more expensive for everyone - and the government will fine or imprison us if we don’t carry health insurance. Well, as it turns out, by November, most Americans were fed up with this continued intrusiveness into their daily lives. Congress flipped as more than 65 Republicans gained seats previously held by Democrats.

    My own Congressman, “yellow dog” Allen Boyd lost by double digits to Steve Southerland. I’d like to think my well-publicized blog about “My Encounter with Allen Boyd” had something to do with it. I was able to meet and interact with Steve Southerland and his staff throughout this year and I have high hopes for his ability to be a true patriot in Congress. As a representative of JMI and the Tallahassee Tea Party, I was invited to present our Congressman-elect with two gifts at the December meeting of the Capital City Republican Club. The first was a framed speech that Davey Crockett gave in Congress back in the 1830s. The second was a framed poster of the Kool-Aid man that said “Don’t Drink the D.C. Kool-Aid” (or something like that). He loved them and I hope to see them in his office the next time I visit our nation’s capital.

    Here in Florida, a lot more happened politically. As Marco Rubio began surging in the polls, it became clear that Florida’s sitting “Republican” Governor Charlie Crist wasn’t going to be able to beat him in the race for U.S. Senate. So Crist “opted out” of the primary, left the Republican Party, and went straight to November for the general election. At first, it seemed like a good move to win (even if unprincipled). But then, the three-way race turned Marco’s way big time. He won by more than 20 points over the “No Party Affiliate” Crist and by more than that over Democrat Kendrick Meek. For more than two years, I had been saying how fake and shallow and unprincipled Charlie Crist was. 2010 proved vindication. And I have interacted with Marco Rubio on a personal level enough to know he’s the real deal. His speeches at CPAC and on election night have been hailed widely.

    For more than a year, I had been saying how the Obama stimulus wasn’t going to work (on top of putting us in debt by nearly a trillion more dollars, not to mention all the other wasteful spending under this President and this Congress). Once again, it was tough being right. Under Crist, Florida’s unemployment went from about 5 percent to 12 percent in less than four years. Under Obama, the national unemployment went from about 7 percent to nearly 10 percent in less than two years. The only thing that was stimulated was the government and its regulation of individuals and small businesses.

    It’s no surprise then that the tea party continued to grow in power and influence in 2010. In the primaries, many Republican incumbents were knocked out by more principled outsiders. In Florida, businessman Rick Scott narrowly defeated long-time establishment Republican Bill McCollum. While McCollum may have traditionally been a principled Republican, his being part of the establishment didn’t help him. Scott then went on to beat Democrat Alex Sink, by the slimmest margin of any Governor’s race in more than 100 years. The November elections also increased the Republican majority in both the Florida House and Florida Senate to two-thirds. That’s a veto-proof majority.

    Since being elected, Rick Scott is making all the right moves - literally. He has loaded his transition teams with some of the most conservative and libertarian men and women you can find (including my boss!). His campaign motto “Let’s Get to Work” holds great promise for limited government, free market conservatives who want to stimulate the private sector of our economy. We’ll see what gets done in 2011 and beyond. If he is able to accomplish just half of what he wants to, I think he’ll be a transformational governor - something Florida desperately needs at this transformative time in our state and nation’s history. I look forward to being part of the solution through my work at JMI.

    This year, my good friend James O'Keefe also formed The Project Veritas with the mission of exposing corruption wherever it exists. I was honored to be asked to join his board of directors and now serve as Chairman. While I have known James for about 6 years now, he was made famous a bit more than a year ago when he released the now famous videos that exposed ACORN. He has also exposed nefarious activities by Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Census, and more recently the New Jersey Educational Association. While James is now famous among many and infamous among others, he brings a dedication to pursuing truth and rightly used the term "Veritas" to name his new organization. We hope he will continue making cutting edge projects and train modern-day muckrakers to be investigate corruption and expose it in unique ways.

    This year I continued to be a man on the move...

    I spent several weekends in Atlanta. Took a trip there in June to see some friends. Really got a great taste of so many parts of this rockin’ Southern metropolis. I went back through there (one stop each way) on my way to Virginia in August. And in December, I spent an amazing musical weekend for the Rock By The Sea Christmas road show in Atlanta. After seeing many great RBTS bands on Friday night at Vinyl with one of my roommates, Matt Farrar, we went and saw an amazing Sister Hazel show on Saturday at the venue next door, Center Stage. It was also cool to see our buddy Michael Westbrook play guitar for the Nic Cowan band, which opened for Hazel. During one song, Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel joined the stage with them. How cool was that?

    As I mentioned before, in August, I went to Virginia for a retreat for a young conservative group I am involved with. About 80 or so young conservatives from all different professions and from many parts of the country traveled to The Homestead resort for three nights - something like 20 Presidents have stayed at this historic, scenic resort that is tucked away in the western mountains of Virginia. We held many discussions on many topics and built friendships through some great times of fellowship. I probably have never been to a conference retreat where there were so many good, smart, and interesting people. It gives me comfort to know these are some of the folks leading the way for the revival of conservative intellectualism in our country. The remnant survives 2010.

    During Labor Day weekend, I traveled to New York City to meet my parents and brothers for an incredible weekend. We spent a day at the U.S. Open, attended a NY Yankees game on Saturday afternoon, and saw the musical “Jersey Boys” on Broadway. We had some great meals, saw a few NYC historic sites, celebrated mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, visited a Comedy Club with my brother Tony and spent a night on the town with both of my brothers. A great, full weekend indeed! Family bonding at its max.

    I would be remiss without mentioning my own year in sports... on the tennis courts. At the end of 2009, I was “bumped up” to the 5.0 level, which means I was not able to play in any of the USTA leagues this year. There just aren’t enough 5.0 players in town to form a team (much less two). But that meant I had to find a lot more of my own recreational matches, even getting the opportunity to play some of the players on the Florida State University team. It has been great getting to know some of those guys and getting to watch them play. It’s been a pleasure hitting with a few of them.

    I think my game really peaked around August and 2010 was certainly the best year for my tennis game since I was about 17. I even suggested at one point that I was hitting and playing better than ever in my life. I am probably in much better condition. The only difference is that my life is too busy (and probably getting too old) to be able to play two matches in a day (much less two matches a day for 2 or 3 days in a row), as I did when I was 17. Other than that, I was on top of my game. That said, the last few months, I haven’t been able to play as consistently. With winter setting in, the cold weather, shorter days, and my own increased travel, all this has left me pretty inconsistent. We’ll see if my game can keep up in 2011. In any case, it’s simply great to be healthy, in shape, and able to be out there on a fairly regular basis. I thank God every day for that.

    On Thanksgiving, I was able to run my first 10K in my life. Since I was a young kid, I’ve run 5K’s and the past few years I’ve really gotten back into running for recreation. I think after edging out my friend Isaac Morehouse in the SPN 5K in Cleveland, I got some extra motivation (just teasing Isaac). I ran the Tallahassee Turkey Trot 10K right here in my Southwood neighborhood. Something like 4,000 people participated between the 5K, 10K, and 15K races. My first goal was to finish. My second goal was to be under 52 minutes. I beat them both, with a time of 50:15. That’s about an 8:07 average per mile. I really paced myself well and surprisingly my last mile was my fastest.

    I finished off the year by spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. I traveled to Interlachen, FL where my Aunt Diane and several uncles and a number of cousins live. My parents and my brother Manny all made the trip there as well, allowing us to spend the holiday together.

    I then took my regular trip back to South Florida to visit with my parents and brothers in Delray for nearly a week - and Aunt Diane spent a weekend with us as well. I also was able to see my Abuela, Aunt Barbara, and cousins in Miami on Noche Buena. I had some good times with some friends in South Florida as well, and even made some new ones in the process. I spent all my nights out in Palm Beach County on this trip. It seems I visit Broward (where I grew up for my entire childhood) much less than ever - and Miami (the city of my birth) is barely on the radar.

    My brother Tony was only able to be with us for two days over Christmas (due to his sports writing job covering the Orlando Magic and the Orlando-area college bowl games). So, on my way back to Tallahassee, I spent a night in Orlando to hang out with him. I have been able to see him a lot more this past year, since he moved to Orlando. His amazing downtown apartment overlooking Lake Eola has become my regular “crash pad.” But the night of December 29th was the last night I’ll ever stay there. It’s not because he’s because he’s San Francisco! (Who knows, he might start smelling soon).

    He accepted a job as an AP Sports Writer in San Francisco. At age 25, he’ll be the youngest person in the country with that title. And, he’s earned it with an amazing sports writing career in his first few years out of college. This means that the city of San Francisco (great name huh?) will be on my list of destinations at least once in 2011. I am very proud of him, but also kind of sad that I’ll see a lot less of him in the coming year. It’s almost ironic that I fought so hard with the tea party and the Republican Party to make sure Nancy Pelosi would not be the Speaker of the House....only to have my brother end up living in her Congressional district! Life is full of ironies, including the fact that he will be living in a city that bears my name, but is about as far from me as you can get in the continental United States.

    2010 has been a wild ride. I was part of the big fight back against big government and an historic election year. I was part of some rockin’ times on the Rock Boat, Rock By The Sea, and other musical adventures in Southern cities like St. George Island, Live Oak, FL and Atlanta, GA. And I was runnin’ down a dream on the tennis court and on the trails of Southwood. I traveled all up and down the east coast - Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, DC, New York, and Ohio all were a part of my 2010. Many great friends and faces along the way. I will not forget all these great people and memorable experiences. Thank you 2010.

    My 2011 will begin with the inauguration of Rick Scott on January 4 and another amazing experience on The Rock Boat from January 6-10. Beyond that, only God knows. But it is certainly Him who will light the way. May He make straight our paths.

    1 comment:

    Jennifer George said...

    New York is fun, isn't it? Living here, you get rather jaded about it. I gather you're the same about living in Florida. I got some Jersey Boys discount tickets this year, and I loved it.