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OUTTAKES | Vol. 11, No. 23, June 25, 2009
(IN Turns Ten!)

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Outtakes

by Rick Outzen

PENSACOLA JOE On Saturday, June 20, I stood on The Fish House Deck listening to Joe Scarborough and his "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski talk about Joe's bestseller, "The Last Best Hope." It was one of those surreal moments.

Ten years earlier, Joe and I had duked it out to be Pensacola's alt-weekly. We never came to blows but there were some very, very heated discussions. An Independent Florida Sun board meeting was about as dysfunctional as a Pensacola City Council workshop, but without the John Jerralds monologues.

Over the past few years, we've mended fences. The paper supported his brother George's bid for State House District 3 in February 2007. I interviewed Joe in the weeks after he had launched his MSNBC morning show (Independent News, "Joe Speaks His Mind," July 3, 2007). For two hours, we talked over the phone about the failures of the Republican Party and the death of conservatism, two themes discussed in his new book.

POLITICAL GENIUS Joe has proved that he is a political genius. He earned his political stripes in 1994 by coming out of nowhere to be elected our Congressman. Few people knew him when first filed to run in 1993. Even fewer people thought he had any chance of beating conservative Democrat Earl Hutto, who had served in Congress since 1972.

Then Hutto surprised everyone by announcing his retirement, which left other hopefuls playing catch up to Joe. Lois Benson and Jim Paul both jumped into the Republican primary. Joe dealt with it by buying as much BLAB TV as possible and broadcasting nearly every day.

Lois led the Republican primary, but Joe beat her in the run-off and rode the Republican wave into Congress. His victory may be the biggest darkhorse victory in Northwest Florida history.

For the next six years, Congressman Scarborough expanded his political influence along the panhandle. Candidates sought his endorsement. By 2000, Joe had put together a political machine that got Jim Paul elected Superintendent of Schools and Ron McNesby Escambia County Sheriff. A year later, Joe walked away from politics to spend more time with his sons, who were 10 and 13 at the time.

Joe has since been approached to be run for both the U.S. Senate and Florida Governor, but has chosen to stay away from politics. He uses his political experiences to analyze others' political campaigns instead.

CREATIVE GENIUS My return to the paper as publisher in 2001 coincided with Joe's return to Pensacola. Joe handed over the reins, but still kept his hand in the editorial. And while he was frustrating to work with at the paper, I can now see his creative genius much more clearly today.

In late 2001 and early 2002, we had a string of cover stories that rival any period of the paper. We covered the erratic leadership style of then-Commissioner W.D. Childers, the need to move the Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant and the possible contamination of our groundwater.

When Joe returned to the national stage at MSNBC, first with "Scarborough Country" and now "Morning Joe," I gained an even greater appreciation of Joe's creativity. He refused to be an imitation of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. Joe created his own style and refused to bend to the pressure.

NOT A BLOOD SPORT Joe has evolved into the voice of conservatism, not the George Bush-Dick Cheney mutation that controlled the nation for eight years, but the Ronald Reagan brand. At The Fish House, Joe spoke about the need for Republicans to be less shrill and more focused on solving the country's problems. He reminded the audience that politics wasn't a blood sport for Reagan.

Neither is journalism. It's funny how after a decade Joe and I have come to similar conclusions. And while he works to help revitalize Conservatism, my mission is to revitalize our community. I hope we both succeed.

rick@inweekly.net