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?

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 Excited Again about Roadtripping

roadtrippers.com

There is nothing I like much more than embarking on a road trip…except maybe planning it! Maybe it was all the summer vacations across America that my fearless mother took us kids on, that endeared me to road travel. More likely, it is the many many trips back and forth between Tampa and Atlanta. I often prefer driving the 7 hours to Atlanta over the quick Delta flight. I’ve got my car, and I’ve got the freedom to stop wherever I want, whenever I want, and even go off the beaten track.

I often wonder why Google hasn’t let me be more creative with my maps for travel purposes. I am always hearing about or web-surfing places I would like to explore in Florida, Georgia, and across the country. But until now, I hadn’t found an intuitive tool for me to discover hidden gems and then save them to a route for the future. Enter Roadtrippers.com!

I Stumbled Upon the Roadtrippers website in June. It is actually how I found my dream lodging destination The 1842 Inn for my next stopover in Macon. Roadtrippers is a simple, intuitive road trip planner, powered by local experts and travel writers. I just plugged in my starting point and my destination, and I could customize my route and build my own travel plan around incredible historical sites, restaurants, hotels, and attractions many of which I had never heard of.

These are the top features of the website:

Explore the best independent places in America. Browse by distance from your trip or explore everything on the map.

• Create “Bucket Lists” of your favorite places.
• Create road trips using the most powerful route planning features online, including instant fuel cost estimation. • Save your trips for quick access and further editing later.
• Share your trips with friends and family on email, Twitter or Facebook. They can even edit and share them back. • Become a guide and display your bucket lists and favorite trips to the world!
• Follow your friends or favorite writers/brands and see their curated trips and bucket lists.
• Print your itinerary or driving directions and hit the road!

http://www.roadtrippers.com

I hear Roadtrippers is also coming out with an incredible app shortly that will revolutionize how you travel. Imagine being able to book hotels from your map!

For me, road trips are a great metaphor for life. We are all on a journey, I have a destination where I want to end up; I set milestones along the way, and sometimes I take some detours. My goal is to savor the ride, treasure the lives of the people riding with me, and make a positive lasting impact on the people in the places where I stop along the way.

Question: Where are you going on your next road trip?

Loosen Your Belt – Dine Tampa Bay Coming Up in August

Oystercatchers Key Lime Pie courtesy of: Dine Tampa Bay’s – Tampa Bay Taste Bud Blog

Do you ever get intimidated by the daunting task of trying new restaurants around your town, knowing where to start in finding them, and most importantly what to order when you get there so you get a true taste what the chef is most proud of?

The Basics: Dine Tampa Bay is a two week event from August 3rd-17th that allows you the opportunity to visit over 100 of the bay area’s top award winning restaurants and enjoy a prix fixe, 3-course meal that includes some of their signature dishes.

Price: $25, $35, $45…you choose

It’s So Easy: The Dine Tampa Bay Website makes this adventure so much fun, and the over-organizer in you will definitely appreciate the user-friendly search criteria available. You can simply pick a price, choose a restaurant, and reserve your table…all online. Or you can even narrow things down by cuisine and neighborhood.

It’s easy to view the menus and a map for each restaurant. That will come in handy if you decide to sleep in your car and spend the two weeks trying every restaurant, needing to chart the most efficient course. That would be an admirable goal indeed!

Whether you enjoy one or all, let me know here or on Twitter where you went and what your thoughts are!

Here are Sample Listings from 3 of My Favorites:

The Melting Pot of Tampa

The Melting Pot of Tampa

13164 N Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL, 33618

(813) 962-6936 | Website  $25

I used to live on Melting Pot fondue when up in Ocala, but Tampa is where it all started! Includes a salad course, 3 choices of meat fondue, and your choice of chocolate fondue including my favorite the Flaming Turtle.  Menu

Cassis American Brasserie

Cassis American Brasserie

170 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, Florida, 33701

727-827-2927 | Website  $35

Cassis American Brasserie serves up “Continental Comfort Cuisine” in a vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Chef, Jeremy Duclut, revisits American classics with an innovative twist, and flavors his cuisine with subtle elements from his traditional French training. Since I lived nearby the town in Provence that is the namesake for this restaurant, I had to include it. All of their food is simple yet unique…I’m looking forward to starting with the cantaloupe soup with crispy Prosciutto de Parma. Menu

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

2900 Bayport Dr., Tampa, FL, 33761

(813) 207-6815 | Website  $45

Oystercatchers is located on the shores of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay and has one of the best brunches in town and is where we had our engagement party! For this package though, I would suggest the fresh catch blackened with one of their signature sauces like a fruit chutney, and don’t forget to finish it off with one of the best Key Lime pies in Tampa. Menu

Question: Which Dine Tampa restaurants would you like to try?

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?

Keep Your Shoes On

Airside C Terminal at Tampa International Airp...

Airside C Terminal at Tampa International Airport (Wikipedia)

As anyone who has traveled through Tampa Airport knows, it is one of the top ranked airports in the entire world. Anyone who has traveled through Atlanta Hartsfield knows that it has the most domestic flights. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced earlier this week that Tampa International Airport will now join Hartsfield as one of the 18 airports that has implemented TSA Pre✓™, a passenger prescreening initiative, used to make frequent travelers’ lives easier and focus resources on the travelers that the agency is much less familiar with. In Tampa, select Delta Air Lines frequent flyers and members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs are now eligible to participate in the initiative when traveling domestically. Airlines currently participating in other airports include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and US Airways.

According to TSA, “if TSA determines a passenger qualifies for TSA Pre✓™, information is embedded in the barcode on the passenger’s boarding pass. TSA reads the barcode at the designated checkpoint, and the passenger may be referred to the TSA Pre✓™ lane to undergo expedited screening, which could include being able to leave on shoes, light outerwear and belts, and allowing laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bags to remain inside carry-on baggage.” That said, TSA always incorporates random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no passenger is guaranteed expedited screening.

To learn more, and sign up for the program, check out the TSA Website. I love the Tampa Airport Facebook Page!

Question: Will this initiative be valuable to you? What are some innovative ways they can make occasional travelers’ trips through the security lines even smoother?

A Wing Challenge You Could Die For

Back in high school we used to run out to Hooters during lunch time and order 50 wings, take them back to school, and then race to see who could eat the most before the bell for class rang. Here might be a Tampa food eating challenge that rivals that one for indigestion!

I love wings! I like them with just about any sauce. Grilled and Fried naked are my favorite…the more well done the better. Well not far from where I grew up and located on Bell Lake, is Rapscallions, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that features the Davy Jones Wings Challenge. For only $12.99 you get wings doused in their original Black Beard’s Revenge hot sauce, featured on the Travel Channel‘s Man vs. Food show. You even have to sign a waiver beforehand and have to be 18 or older. You eat the wings in 30 minutes or less and you can’t water it down with any other food or drinks. You then get to sit for 5 minutes and savor the pain before being awarded with your picture on their Wall of Fame. I’ll be honest, you don’t go here for the atmosphere just to make history and meet nice folks.

No chance I’ll ever be trying this, but it is nice to dream big! I still remember enjoying the original Buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY near where my grandfather was born.

Rapscallions
4422 Land O’ Lakes Blvd
Land O’ Lakes, FL 34639
(813) 235-6511

Question: What is your favorite wing place? How do you like them?

Here is a video of a guy taking his best shot at Rapscallions:


Something Worth Fighting For

On this 4th of July, we all celebrate the bold and courageous step our founders made in declaring independence from Britain. Liberty was at stake, but after the start of the Revolutionary War so were property, lives, and even states. Have you ever thought how just one battle or turn of events could have changed the course of history and even the physical shape of our country? You may not be aware of the battles for Georgia and even Florida during the Revolution. Below is a brief history.

Georgia

In the early days of the war, Savannah and Augusta were easy targets for the Loyalists to hold for the British and defend. But Elijah Clarke reformed his brigade in the Spring of 1781 and joined with a group of South Carolina militia under the command of Micajah Williamson as he was obsessed with the idea of freeing Augusta. Augusta was an outpost connected to Savannah by the 80 mile River Road. On May 20, 1781, Clarke and Williamson got welcome support from General Andrew Pickens, in command of a group of South Carolina militia and Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, who had learned tactical cavalry support under Casimir Pulaski. A second group of Continentals, under the new Commander of the Southern Department Nathanael Greene was laying siege to Ninety Six not far from Augusta. Clarke and the other Georgia commanders were greatly relieved at Lee’s arrival. On May 21, Lee and Pickens raid Fort Galphinton on Silver Bluff, securing a significant amount of British stores including munitions.On May 25 they took Fort Grierson, and on June 5 the patriots secured Augusta. Grierson, who had been so abusive to the upcountry Whigs, was killed after the surrender of the city.

By July 3rd, 1781 (notice the date) almost every outpost along the Savannah River had been abandoned by the British allowing Georgia colonialists to regain most of their lost territory. Enter General Anthony Wayne, widely regarded as one of the best American generals during the Revolution, who after a supporting role in Cornwalis’ surrender at Yorktown Wayne headed south to assist the patriots of Georgia. Although outnumbered two to one, Wayne soundly defeated his British opponents in Georgia, culminating what was one of the most brilliant campaigns of the Revolution.

Florida

In September of 1779 the Spanish, who had joined the war on the American side, retook British West Florida. There were three engagements though between Americans and the British and Tories near today’s Jacksonville. The Battle of Thomas Creek, the Skirmish of Alligator Creek, and the Tories of Cow Ford.

In Cow Ford, my apparently 4th great grand uncle Captain William Cone, of the Richmond County Militia of Georgia, gathered a party of men in 1781 and drove the Tories back into Florida after they advanced into Georgia. But then Captain Cone, William Williams, and two of his men were captured by the British and imprisoned in the fort Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine. In 1783, Captain Cone and his men managed to escape. For his work in driving the Tories back into Florida, Captain Cone and his men were granted 200 acres of confiscated land on the south side of the Great Ogeechee River in northeastern Georgia.

English: Photo of the Castillo de San Marcos f...

Photo of the Castillo de San Marcos fort in St. Augustine, Florida, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the loss of Savannah the Spanish walked into St. Augustine and claimed the city with little resistance from the British. February, 1783, marked the official cession of hostilities and on September 3, 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolution. The 13 colonies had defeated the most powerful nation in the world.

If you are interested in learning more about battles in Georgia and skirmishes in Florida here is where I found the information excerpted above. Thanks to Randy Golden and the Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

I also want to thank my other ancestors who were Revolutionary War Veterans for helping our founders achieve our liberty and all those veterans who have preserved it since. May God Bless America! Happy 4th of July.