Many of you know me either as a college professor, a local activist, as Santa Clause, or as the father of the two most, amazing young women in the world. You’ve met me volunteering in the community, protesting for equality, feeding the hungry, and supporting our local businesses. Words are great and social media allows us to feel like someone cares about what we say, but for me, it is and always has been about living your words and putting action behind the beliefs you espouse.
From a philosophical point of view, I have been heavily influenced 1) by the Methodist upbringing I enjoyed, “Do as much good as you can, for as many people as you can, in as many ways as you can, for as long as you can.” (John Wesley); my 20 years in Scouting, “Do a good turn Daily”, “Help other people at all times”, “The brotherhood of cheerful service”, and countless sports teams where each person is important, has a job to do, and tries to make those around him/her better.
I was not a great student through a great deal of my school years. I was bored, found the material dull and repetitive, and failed to see where anything we were discussing had any relevance to my life. Finally, my parents grew frustrated enough to send me to Military School, Hargrave Military Academy, for my last two years of high school. There I became yearbook editor, junior school summer commander, a leader in several clubs, and Corps Commander.
I was challenged by teachers who cared about the person more than the grade, was surrounded by supportive friends, and I lived under the guidance of an honor code which I still repeat every time I sign my name. After 2 years plus a summer, I graduated in the top 5 of my class with nominations to all three service academies, appointments to West Point, Annapolis, and the Coast Guard Academy and scholarships to several top ACC universities.
After a year in the ROTC at University of North Carolina, I chose to move to Florida to be close to my family. I gave up my scholarship, received my honorable discharge from the Navy, took a job washing dishes at a local restaurant to help pay for college and worked for the next ten years in the restaurant business as I earned my B.S. in Finance from the University of South Florida. ( I think I was 1 course short of formally earning a minor in Economics).
After college, I got married in Brandon, where I was still a scoutmaster, brought home two daughters to our first home in Riverview, and spent a decade developing an international division for our family business. I built relationships between 2 dozen US manufacturers and major retailers throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and in Mexico. When the business closed, we had an international division creating over $10 million/year in exports, with sales teams in Florida, Venezuela, and Mexico.
The closing of the family business coincided with the end of my marriage and offered me a chance to change the direction of my life. I had become very active in local issues, especially the poisoning of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Estuary, so I went to work with a local Web firm that had similar passions about serving the community. I became a board member of the United Way, a huge supporter of the Art community, an officer in my local Advertising Federation, an Area Governor for Toastmasters International, and a member of 3 local Chambers of Commerce. I spoke to numerous organizations about the business transformations that the web would be heralding and worked closely with the local business incubator. And then one day, when I was recruiting interns at Keiser Career College, I was offered an opportunity to teach a course.
Two years after I began teaching, my ex-wife moved my children back to Brandon and I relocated back to District 15 to be close to them. I first lived in Plant City and then moved to Lakeland where I have lived for the past 12 years.
Not only have I been a professor for the past 16+ years, I have served as the Program Director for my program at the Lakeland campus for 14 years, and served as the University Department chair for my program for over a decade. I serve as a leader in community involvement for our campus, student safety and crisis response, a mentor to new instructors, and a member of our teaching enhancement, accreditation, and assessment committees. I have served on the advisory committee for several of our schools, have taught HTML to 3rd and 4th graders in our local elementary schools, served as guest lecturer at all levels in our local school system, served as a judge at numerous school competitions and have worked with our local school board to forge articulation agreements that will give college credit for certain students who worked hard in our Polk County Schools.
In my quest to develop local connections to help provide opportunities for my students, I discovered a passion for and new opportunities to serve my community. I belong to service organizations such as Elks and Kiwanis, the Polk Advertising Federation, the League of Women Voters, and several others. I saw a need and founded The Lakeland Shooters Photography Club (over 1200 members) and a local Toastmasters Club. I regularly volunteer to help out the United Way, the Alliance for Independence, Kidspack, Emerge Lakeland, Relay for Life, Polk Pride, Blood Drives, the Diversity Council, …
The point is, I didn’t one day wake up and say “Gee, I want to serve in Congress.” I have been actively serving, leading, and advocating in our district for decades. I love the diversity and passion of the people in our part of Central Florida and cry because the vast majority of us have no voice in a government that no longer cares. A Representative is an elected public servant and should wake every day asking “What can I do for the people in my district.” We haven’t had that in a very long time and it is time that your voice is heard, your opinions are valued, and your needs are recognized as being more important than the profits of insurance companies, banks, and the Koch Brothers.
I want to be the kind of representative you deserve and ask for the opportunity to simply and humbly serve you and your neighbors.