20 Years Ago Today, An Incomplete Pass…

Jack French Kemp, July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009

Jack French Kemp, July 13, 1935 – May 2, 2009

Atlanta, January 30, 1994. Super Bowl XXVIII. I was there.

No, seriously, I was. Dallas vs. Buffalo. Dallas won their fourth Super Bowl. Or “big game” since copyright doesn’t allow me to use the real name.

My trip to the big game was the highlight of three amazing months. In October, I lost my long term job as a conference planner with a national association. I’d been there for almost eight years. Let’s just say the firing was political. Let’s just say a year later I was proven to be right. But I didn’t go back. One day, you can read the story in the book.

While I was job searching, and among other things interviewing with the incoming Allen Administration, I took the opportunity to do some consulting work. In the political world you do consulting when you don’t have a real job.

But, a college friend was working for Campaign for a New Agenda, which turned out to be the Political Action Committee (PAC) of former congressman and HUD secretary Jack Kemp. I’d been a fan of Jack Kemp for years since I first heard him speak at CPAC in 1986 (or 1987). And he’s spoken on several occasions for the association I worked for.

At that point Jack was considering a run for the White House. What he did annually was host a fundraising weekend in conjunction with the Super Bowl. I spent the next few weeks working on donor lists, confirming attendance and hoping that I’d get the chance to go.

I did.

Here’s the most amazing thing. I went to Atlanta to see the big game and we were completely broke. My wife and I joke about the fact that the week after I was spending all that time at the big game with those stars and with all of the money floating around she was working for a photographer friend of ours at the Reagan-Thatcher dinner. We were surrounded by people with bazillions of dollars. We had $12.00 in the bank. True story. I considered selling my ticket. I could have gotten somewhere between $600-1000 for it. But I thought to myself “when will I ever have this opportunity again.” Turns out I was right.

There were receptions and dinners and events all weekend long. The Saturday before the game was the big luncheon. A room full of former football stars including Roger Staubach, Joe Namoth, Willie Lanier and yes a pre-white Bronco O.J. Simpson.

The game was an amazing experience. Working for Jack Kemp of course I was cheering for Buffalo. It didn’t turn out so well for them.

Those of us working the event had our hopes that Jack was going to decide to make another run at the White House. We would have been on the ground floor of the campaign.

The week after the game, I got the call to come and work for the Allen Administration. We were broke, so I took the job with the understanding that, should Jack decide to run, I’d be there.

History tells us that Jack didn’t run for President in 1996. Instead he ended up as the Vice Presidential candidate on the failed 1996 Dole/Kemp ticket.

I stayed with the Allen Administration and eventually the family moved to Richmond. I have no regrets. I love it here. I’d make some employment adjustments if I could, but it’s a good, and mostly secure job, so I shouldn’t complain. I often do, but shouldn’t.

I don’t know what life would have been like had Jack Kemp decided to run in 1996. It would have been a fun ride, that’s for sure. Could he have beaten Bill Clinton? Who knows?

What I know is that of the politicians I’ve worked for over the last thirty something years, Jack is one I’d work for again. Sadly we lost him a few years back.

He was brilliant on the economy. He understood conservatism. He understood people.

I am honored to have had those few months to work for him. I am sad that there’s no one in electoral politics today in whom I could place the same trust and confidence.

I sometimes wonder how life would have been different if Jack had decided to run. If we had stayed in DC. If Buffalo had won the game…

No regrets. Life happens and we move on.

But, yeah. I was there.


    • Jim Riley on February 7, 2014 at 12:25 am

    I know what you mean, Mike. It is amazing that all these years after he decided against seeking another elective office and nearly 5 years since his passing that he retains such great influence over so many in the party today. He is the only person in DC to call me Jimmy (something only family members and friends from my childhood did), but I didn’t mind it coming from him. What is funny is that his son wanted to be called Jimmy, but Jack insisted that he go by James. In 2012, I met his son who told me that and I responded that he called him Jimmy in the dedication of his book. He quickly whipped it out and saw that I was right. He never knew that until then.

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