BIZPAC celebrates its 20th

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For thirty years now, the Economic Council has been instrumental in shaping Palm Beach County’s political and strategic direction, to the benefit of the business community and taxpayers alike.

But it all could have gone another way, if not for some decisive leadership at a key time in the council’s development.

It was 1991, and the Economic Council was at a crossroads in the evolution of its mission: take a strong, vocal stand and help shape the future of Palm Beach County from the front lines, or stay quietly under the radar, a safe distance from the vengeful barbs and retaliations of ruffled politicians, and protect the council’s coveted squeaky-clean image.

The council had just undergone an impressionable experience that would help make the choice much easier. Fresh off an unprecedented victory, where the council had engineered a fairer system of government by pushing through single-member voting districts on the County Commission, Economic Council leaders had gotten a taste of how much of a difference we could make in the county’s future health and vitality. And we were hooked.

It turns out the varying paths at the crossroads’ intersection weren’t that conflicting after all.

We came up with an idea that let us have our cake and eat it, too — keep our reputation for taking the high road, help promote positive change in how local government operated, and, most importantly, change the dynamic for how government impacted the business community. Our answer: a business-oriented political action committee.

And so, BIZPAC was born.

I was fortunate to be council chairman at this transformative time, and Tom Rossin — the Flagler Bank president who later became a state senator — was vice chairman. As a group, we decided the council needed a substitute lightning rod to absorb the fury and hailstones of whatever political storms came our way, so the council itself, a 501(c) nonprofit, could remain “pristine.” The political action committee, commonly referred to as a PAC, could do battle in the trenches and take the heat when it came.

BIZPAC was created as the political arm of the Economic Council. It began operating in 1992. The name came from the fertile brain of Dale Smith, then the council’s executive director. We quickly put together a winning BIZPAC team: Len Lindahl, president of Lindahl, Browning, Ferrari & Hellstrom, was chairman; Kim Tisdale was executive director; and our first political consultant was Daryl Glenney of The Campaign Works.

BIZPAC’s primary goal was to “improve the caliber of our elected leadership” and to “intelligently impact the political process.”

Of the initial 10-member Board of Trustees, six remain BIZPAC members today. BIZPAC conducted its first candidate interviews in July 1992, and its first foray into county politics was very successful. That year, BIZPAC went against all four incumbent county commissioners. More than three-fourths — 76 percent — of our endorsed candidates won, and almost immediately, we noticed “a positive change for the good in the complexion of local government officials,” as was the goal laid out in our mission statement.

One of the lessons we learned from that first campaign was a point we felt necessary to add to our future strategic plan: “to pay attention to our basic instincts when selecting a candidate to support, rather than simply follow what the ‘professionals’ tell us is best to do.”

The early BIZPAC had a never-say-die, bounce-back attitude that was captured perfectly by one of the council’s trustees after our first election campaign, when BIZPAC lost one of the county commission races. The trustee strode into the first BIZPAC meeting following the election, a big grin on his face, and yelled, “Time to make new friends!” And we did.

So now, BIZPAC prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday. It’s been fun, it’s been productive, and I believe it’s safe to say that BIZPAC has made a positive imprint on Palm Beach County politics.

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John R. Smith

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