Beltway Bubble in Tampa – RNC Convention Days 2 & 3 – Lesson on Politics

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Welcome to all of the new readers and people following this blog after the GOP Convention. I met a lot of really nice folks from other states and other countries, and I’ve been pleased that some of them have found their way to this site. I want to take some time to tell you what my last two days around the convention were like and share some photos, but I am also trying to paint a picture for another purpose, and that is to describe my perspective of politics, which was broadened this week.

I’ve never been naive about politics and its effect on government, but up until now my visits inside the Beltway have been brief, and I have scurried out as fast as I can. This time, the Beltway came to us here in Tampa, and I decided to immerse myself in it. But since I wasn’t a delegate, I didn’t have planning meetings and other official events to go to. Instead, I was hopping from special interest party, to media event, to book signing, back to special interest event, and stopped at some of my favorite Tampa hot spots along the way to mix and mingle.

The experience was complete with lots of interaction with some of the GOP’s top candidates and past leaders, but it made me realize what a bubble these people live in. I’ll save more for another post, but I think when you see the pace and influences of the people in this realm, the dysfunction of our government becomes more clear. I am confident that they have best intentions in mind, it’s just that a whole lot of other junk gets in the way…primarily in the green paper variety with our founders’ faces on them!

The photo at the top of this post has little to do with my observations above, other than the fact that it is of a panel I attended by a grassroots special interest group with a great purpose — to uplift women and the issues that matter to them. Many of these special interests, especially in my opinion the ones at this convention, have a good purpose. This National Defense and Security panel featured KT McFarland, a defense department advisor to Ronald Reagan that I greatly respect. I was really pleased to talk with her after the panel and get this photo. Her message that a strong energy and economic policy first, is the foundation of a strong security policy made a lot of sense. I also met Jennifer Carroll our fantastic Lt. Governor of Florida.

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After wandering around the Channelside area and realizing that I was one of six people that weren’t part of the MSBC crew broadcasting there, I decided to make a break for a real lunch spot, the newly reopened Floridan Hotel! This national historic landmark that my grandfather owned during World War II was at one time the tallest building in Florida. It had been shuttered since the late 80’s, and after many false starts by other developers, a local family purchased and renovated the hotel and opened it two weeks before the RNC.

I’ll do another full post on the Floridan soon, but I wanted to share a few photos so that you can see how beautiful it is. As I was hoping, it was reminiscent of the Georgian Terrace in Atlanta!

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I had a wonderful lunch in the dining room and was so pleased to have as my waiter one of the nephews of the Floridan’s owner who spoke with me at length about the renovation efforts and all of their hard work in decorating and preservation. The place was beautiful and the food was incredible. It was so important for the city to show it off, that NBC was assigned the hotel for its crew and commentators.

Sitting next to me in the quiet dining room was none other than Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, opinion writer for the Washington Post, and MSNBC contributor Eugene Robinson. We had a really nice chat, and although I hardly ever agree with anything that comes out of his mouth on TV or paper, he was such a gentleman. I look forward to sharing some of his observations of Tampa with you in future posts, he seemed very impressed.

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That experience made me realize that despite all of the political disagreements, these folks living in the world of politics are generally nice people who are real and actually have to eat food and go to sleep. (when, I don’t know) The thing is politicians, lobbyists, and the press, they all know each other and they are all truly in one business, and that is promoting themselves and their agenda. They enable each other and feed off of each other. Because there is a camera in their face all the time, they begin to believe they are experts on everything, and everyone they come in contact with shows them a level of appreciation that may be real or it may just be a show as well, but reinforces that idea in their head. The culture is so immersive I don’t see how many can avoid it. They just do their best to grow gills and swim.

Look at this event I went to with Rick Santorum. You can hardly see him because of the mass of press surrounding him asking him and his family questions along with adoring fans trying to touch him. Even the most honorable man has to be affected a little by this…I would think.

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Even I had to get in on the action and stop Gretchen Carlson for a photo. After all, we have the same last name. I told her this and she dryly responded, well good you’ll be able to remember mine. She was so gracious. The fact is, who doesn’t remember her name? Everywhere she went she was barraged by people wanting to take photos with her. It is amazing how clearly these people can focus once they are in front of the camera. I wonder if they feel like they live in two worlds, one in front of the camera and one behind it. Or if the two have just merged into one.

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Question: Is my portrayal accurate, and is this endless cycle of promotion at all healthy for getting our country back on track?

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My Day at the GOP Convention

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Today was an eventful day for me at the RNC Convention! Since I am not a delegate, this is about as close as I was able to get to the Times Forum itself. Okay, a little closer than that as I attended a number of events that I had been invited to right at the security zone border. First let me say what a pleasant time I had. Contrary to some accounts you might hear on cable news, traffic is very calm and downtown is actually surprisingly empty other than delegates and the occasional protestor. Traffic in and out at the downtown exit was so smooth. I hear thought that on the busses at night after the convention may be another story! But during the day today and yesterday have been fine. The police, national guard, and secret service looked exhausted but vigilent, and all I spoke to were very polite. As a news reporter friend of mine today tweeted, I am very proud of Tampa…keep it up.

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I started the day by heading to Liberty Plaza, sponsored by Citizens United. There I spotted Gov. Mike Huckabee doing his radio show. I really respect the governor and the way he reaches across party lines for the good of the country, while also standing up for the principles he believes in. Then I headed into the makeshift theater to see the showing of “Reagan:Rendezvous with Destiny” produced by Newt and Callista Gingrich. The documentary on the life of President Reagan is one of the most thorough and all encompasing works on Reagan that I have seen. And I have seen a lot!

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Afterwards, Newt and Callista were so gracious to speak with attendees and sign books and DVDs. I had been looking forward to getting Mrs. Gingrich’s book Sweet Land of Liberty that stars Ellis the Elephant as he travels American history, and simply and eloquently identifies what makes our country so great by way of history’s most inspiring moments. My kids Lyndsey and Kyle have already fallen in love with the book. Here is an excerpt:

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“Ellis read of those coming from distant shores, arriving in a country they had never seen before. Speaking different languages, they all shared a dream–to live together in a land where freedom was supreme.” I’ll let you guess from that excerpt where Ellis got his name! What a beautiful book with gorgeous illustrations.

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Citizens United was getting ready for an exciting party tonight, but I had to run! Here is a sneak peek of the dance floor.

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Now before I move on, let me just say again, these events were all open to the public, well organized, complimentary, and fully catered. I wish more people had attended! I think the bluster of press coverage over the last few days has scared off people from going into downtown. Come check it out, convention events are lots of fun, and these are valuable events. For some ideas check out this website or my post yesterday about the YG WomanUp! Pavilion at Channelside. Tomorrow I plan to attend a national security panel with KT McFarland from the Reagan administration and a film showing at The Straz Performing Arts Center, also free with lots of fun perks.

I haven’t even mentioned all the nice people from various states and media outlets that I have met including lobbyists for the International Franchise Association and writers for the Tampa Tribune. I am not much for the slimy world of politics, but these events feel nothing of the sort. Everyone is polite, respectful, and just enjoying themselves. Even if you are a Democrat here in Tampa it is worth coming down to the convention to see your city shine!

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Finally, I ended the day with my kids and our friends from the Georgia delegation at their hotel that happened to be the place where my wife and I had our rehearsal dinner island party the night before our wedding. It was only fitting that our kids goof around at their welcome table! (Sorry for the wrinkled table cloth) This beautiful place provided us with many wonderful memories…as I am sure it will for every Georgia delegate!

Question: What has your experience been like during the convention so far?

Woman Up! at the RNC

I wandered down to the convention early this afternoon to check out the scene. I was surprised to see that most of the areas being promoted to delegates to spend their leisure time were not crowded at all. (Apparently busses from delegate hotels by the beach were not making the trip over to the bridges to downtown because of the rain…good for Pinellas County I guess) Both Ybor City and Channelside were relatively quiet, so I took the opportunity to look around. I was on a mission to find the YG Network Woman Up! Pavilion as I’ll be attending some events there later on this week.

I passed the MSNBC stage, leaned to the right, and found myself at the Women’s Pavilion. It is open to the public and is truly one of the coolest places to chill out during the convention…even for guys! Designed solely for the convention it has big couches, a club-like atmosphere, and huge TV’s with Fox News on. Sure, you can hang out at Hooters or that Tapas place, but why wouldn’t you rather sip on a cosmopolitan at the bar, get your hair done, shop in the boutique, and watch Shepard Smith on the big screens! Okay, so you’d think a guy like me would be a little uncomfortable, but I was pleasantly surprised to find more men than women there!

The Pavilion has taken over almost the whole first floor of the Channelside complex along Channelside Drive, right across the sidewalk from the Florida Aquarium. Named in honor of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the Pavilion will play host this week to a variety of events featuring prominent women including to name a few a Foreign Policy Panel featuring KT McFarland, a panel on Women-owned businesses, and a book signing by Callista Gingrich. Here is a full schedule! I met Barbara, one of the coordinators of the Pavilion, and I have to applaud her team and the organizers for such a fun venue at the RNC!

Get a Front Row Seat for Tampa Bay

This photograph is of Downtown Tampa and Tampa...

A very exciting and unprecedented media effort that is taking place here in Tampa and is incorporated with the Republican National Convention will launch in about 10 days. It is called Front Row Tampa Bay! I want to publicize it, because the more people around the nation that take the time to watch it, the greater the effect will be.

According to their website, Front Row Tampa Bay, presented by the Tampa Bay Partnership will promote regional and Florida businesses with interactive business panels, featuring regional, state and national VIPs in business, industry, and the public arena, live-streamed to a targeted list of business and political leaders from a theatre complex located nearby the convention site. (Of course you can sign up to watch too, or maybe even be part of the show)

Programming will include focus on the key business sectors and leaders from Florida and Tampa Bay, commentary from top political leaders, and a look at life in Tampa Bay and Florida.

It will be interesting to see what the overall impact of the convention is on our local economy, and this effort ought to plant some seeds that  will bear fruit over time. Although Florida is a top tourist destination because of its great weather and wonderful attractions, the media is having so much fun spinning the threats of hurricanes and making summer in Florida sound like slogging through the Amazon. In reality, most people from other cities visit and dream about what it would be like to do business in a place that combines great weather, a diverse culture, and tons of natural beauty.

I’ll try to do a few blog updates as I wander around Tampa during the convention, and attempt to determine whether my post on RNC parties ends up being correct. But if you are a business person or thinking about moving to Tampa, your best source for true on the ground reporting that extends beyond all of the political banter will be Front Row Tampa Bay and their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 2 – Case Study Tampa

courtesy of Beltline.org

On July 31st, Atlantans will vote on the Atlanta Beltline and Transportation Referendum mentioned in Part 1 of my post Get Rid of Gridlock. We struck down a similar measure in Tampa/Hillsborough County over a year ago. There are many who criticize Tampa residents for not being forward thinking and not caring about mass-transit. I’m not one of those, I think everyone in Florida realizes how useful a regional transit system would be, they just want it to make common sense first and be done right. Here are four reasons in my opinion why the pitch for a tax might work in Atlanta and didn’t work for Tampa:

1) The BeltLine is truly visionary, they have done a great job with videos, renderings, and maps communicating what the BeltLine will be. Progress is already being made. They are turning vacant land into parks along the BeltLine so people can begin to imagine the possibilities. Runners are already having races along the BeltLine. The project is also very innovative, and a fascinating reuse of existing infrastructure that yearns for revitalization.

2) As mentioned above, Atlanta has been able to collaborate across 10 counties to come up with a plan and a referendum. The Tampa Bay Area has not been able to do that, with authorities in every county butting heads against each other and regional authorities that couldn’t get consensus from the counties. On Hillsborough County alone there were at least 4 groups involved in the lobbying for the tax and they did a pathetic job of creating one coherent vision with one common set of renderings/maps. And that was just Hillsborough County.

3) Atlanta already has the experience of MARTA and its citizens rally around mass-transit in theory especially due to Atlanta traffic. Atlanta sees the future and wants to grasp it. It is part of the culture. There seems to be less of a concern for frivolous spending in Atlanta and more of a sense of trust in local government and public/private partnerships. Recently, local media and government cracked down on the spending/accounting of the BeltLine team before anything egregious happened. All parties are working together on transparency, and that will be critical.

4) None of the plans for light rail in Tampa Bay made any sense financially, although no public transportation plans ever really do in terms of dollars and cents. The value of course are in the long term intangible benefits for future development and economic growth that can only be estimated, and in my opinion this was not done effectively by the agencies involved in Hillsborough County.

I think Tampa has a lot to learn from cities like Atlanta about collaboration, innovation, and planning. In this case though, I think the team in Atlanta could learn some good lessons from what did not work here in Tampa.

Question: What else is holding Tampa back?

Get Rid of Gridlock? Part 1

Atlanta Beltline – courtesy of BeltLine.org

Sound familiar Tampa? In just 11 days, Atlanta will be voting on a public transportation referendum that proposes a regional 1% sales tax across 10 counties. This sounds similar to the recent Hillsborough county tax referendum that we voted down last year…or does it?

The Atlanta BeltLine is the 1999 brainchild of Georgia Institute of Technology graduate student Ryan Gravel from his master’s thesis, a plan for a 22-mile loop that would connect 45 historic Atlanta neighborhoods, promoting in each greater access to mass transit, public parks and recreational trails. Much of the BeltLine makes use of abandoned track from previous local railroads. Ambitious in its scope, the BeltLine project hopes to grow the local economy by $20 billion dollars, create some 30,000 jobs, reclaim 1,100 acres of brownfields, and develop more than 5,000 affordable housing units for working families over the next 25 years. For more information, check out the BeltLine Tour or Maps of the Project.

Here is a video from the Referendum website from the BeltLine as well as a brochure from the Opposition so you can make an informed vote. According to the Beltline website, if the referendum passes, it would build roughly five miles of new transit on the east and west sides of Atlanta BeltLine and another five miles across midtown and downtown on city streets, connecting to MARTA rail in three locations. It would also connect transit to the existing West End Trail and run transit alongside the Eastside Trail, now under construction.

Question: What are your concerns about the Atlanta BeltLine Referendum?

Tea Party Time

English: The Supreme Court of the United State...

The Supreme Court of the United States.

The Gadsden flag

The Gadsden flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scratching your head over today’s decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the healthcare law because it is in fact a tax?

Were you kind of looking forward to breathing that big sigh of relief when the healthcare law would be deemed unconstitutional and Congress could go back to the drawing board?

Did you originally like some of the elements you heard about when the law was first passed, but since then decide that our government had way overreached and that maybe you were witnessing the creation of a government behemoth that might just start taking away your liberty under the pretense of helping those less fortunate?

I suspect that a lot of people feel this way, and that we are going to witness the re-awakening of a sleeping giant called the Tea Party that never really went anywhere. For your information here is a list of Tea Party Organizations in our fine cities:

Tampa 

The Tampa Tea Party – website or Facebook

Tampa 9-12 – website or Facebook

Tea Party Express – website

Atlanta

Atlanta Tea Party Patriots – Facebook

Atlanta Tea Party – website

Southern Belle Politics – blog

South Atlanta Tea Party – website or Facebook

Question: Do you think the Tea Party has been effective in creating a positive dialogue that did not previously exist?

Tampa may NOT be a haven for RNC parties!

All we heard in Tampa a year ago was how we needed to either get out of town early or make dinner reservations immediately for the week of Tampa’s Republican National Convention because the rowdy conventioners would attract a host of lobbyists and special interests that love throwing dinners and late night parties. This may still prove to be true, but a recent article by Politico throws some cold water on this idea. You can read the article here that explains that due to Mitt Romney’s bland persona, a poor economy, and a party looking to contrast its responsible image with that of current administration departments like the GSA, most of the lobbying groups will be resorting to professional lunches and other smaller gatherings.

Are you a restaurant or club owner? What are your bookings like for that week?