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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 10, 2009 9 years ago

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The wild west of center-right grassroots politics hopes to come to every county in the state using the new media combo of the blogs, podcasts and videos. A conservative, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel from Sarasota is Florida's Wyatt Earp.
by: Jay Brady Government Editor

The wild west of center-right grassroots politics hopes to come to every county in the state using the new media combo of the blogs, podcasts and videos. A conservative, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel from Sarasota is Florida's Wyatt Earp.


Rich Swier is the publisher of Red County-Florida and editor of Red County-Sarasota (www.redcounty.com/sarasota) an internationally read Web site dedicated to center-right grassroots commentary, news and politics. Red County represents the rapid evolution of the new media.

A 23-year Army veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1990, Swier was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star with “V” for Heroism in ground combat, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry while serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

He holds a doctorate of education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, a master's in management information systems from the George Washington University, and a bachelor's in fine arts from Washington University.

Swier was the Founder/CEO of Sarasota Online, a high technology company that was sold to Comcast Cable in 1996. He helped start Backsoft Corporation, an enterprise software development company in 1997 whose clients included Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Hyundai Electronics, Volkswagen, Moen and Goodyear. Backsoft was sold in 2001. He twice chaired the Sarasota Better Business Council and sat on the Board of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, on the Sponsorship Advisory Committee to the Sarasota County School Board and is president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission.

The following is an edited version of the Review's interview with Swier.

Q. What led to the creation of Red County and how did you come to be involved?

A. Red County actually started off about four years ago as a print magazine in Orange County, Calif., and they named it Red County because Orange County was a red county in a blue state. After it became very successful, the magazine grew and it became sort of a go-to place for politicos and other people to read about political issues going on in Orange County.

And then, Matt Cunningham got involved and said, “You know we need to take this concept and put it on the internet.” The idea of having a local grass roots interest in writers talking about counties is a very powerful concept, and why don't we do it for more counties. So, suddenly they began recruiting in California to find writers and editors to write for different counties in California. And then they said, “Gee wiz, this is really going pretty good, let's go nationwide.”

They began to seek out and recruit bloggers. They found that these bloggers met their values and beliefs, which are definitely center-right — what I would call constitutional moderates; they believe in the constitution. They believe in what the forefathers designed for this country.

The fundamental purpose of my blog was to read articles and commentary and editorials in the local newspaper, specifically the (Sarasota) Herald-Tribune, and to give a different perspective, a more conservative angle.

Q. When people ask you about Red County how do you describe it to them?

A. It's a grass roots movement to harness the energy of this new media at the county level and to have a writer in every county in the United States.

Q. What was your motivation to get involved with Red County?

A. They called me and they said, “Gee, Rich you kind of fit our profile. We don't normally do this, but would you like to be an editor for Red County, and would you like to just jump in with both feet.” And I thought about it for a nanosecond and said, “Absolutely, let's do it.”

Q. What has been the reaction you've gotten from around Florida and Sarasota County?

A. Huge. People are starving for a different perspective. I think Red County is perfectly positioned right now. There's a movement afoot going across America, particularly after this last election, there's a movement not particularly political-party focused. It's more on a basic, fundamental philosophy: yes, smaller government, less taxes, strong families and a strong national defense, limited federal government.

It's on a philosophical basis, and that philosophical basis fits perfectly with Red County. Red County is perfectly situated to do several things: 1) Get more writers, quality writers; 2) Be part of this sea change; and 3) Become the news feed for center-right politics — to become the AP or UPI or BBC of this new movement that's sweeping across America.

Q. In the reaction you've gotten, has any of it been negative or polarizing?

A. Yes. That means I'm doing my job. I'm pushing the philosophy that Red County wants me to push nationally and regionally, and I'm addressing issues that the grass roots really is concerned about. Red County does not have a style manual, so our writers and our editors are free to write what they want within reason.

Q. What is Red County's business plan? Is it profitable? If not, do you see a time when it will be?

A. The business plan is not unlike anything else. We just went through a total redesign of the Web site and launched it. The company is now owned by (Delta Global Advisors President) Chip Hanlon out of California. He had a Web site called “Green Faucet,” and he bought Red County. And they're primarily business news.

Chip Hanlon bought it within the last four to five months, and his business plan is to totally redo the site and make it more exciting, to become a destination site with banner ads and so on.

In addition, they have put out what we call an e-magazine. We'll be doing local magazines like in Sarasota, and it's available on the internet and there's no publication costs. The advertising in the e-zine will be sold. This will be specifically about political issues within the counties.

I think the beauty of Red County is I have four editors, including myself, and over 30 writers, and I don't pay them a dime. And I have no overhead costs — zero.

Q. I see you have four counties — Sarasota, Miami-Dade, Duval and Bay

A. My intent is to have at least one writer by the end of next year in every one of the 67 counties. In some of the more heavily populated areas, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Naples, there probably will be an editor and maybe four or five writers.

Q. That's a pretty big growth move.

A. Right now, Red County has nearly 40 editors and almost 400 contributors nationwide, and we plan on doubling that in the next year. We think that's doable for a couple reasons. There are a lot of people interested in what we're doing because it's part of a movement. There are a lot of writers who are passionate about things that are out there and they want to get their name out, and they want to get their issue out. They want to talk about local politics. Red County is not a charity. It will bring revenues to the editors and writers much like AP, UPI, BBC, any of the news feeds.

Q. How has the Obama administration's actions affected Red County?

A. Not just the Obama administration. Red County is going to hold a stronger light up to Republicans than it does to Democrats because we have a belief system. Part of our responsibility is to hold Republicans just as responsible for their actions when they vote in a way that we feel is incompatible with conservative values and beliefs. And we're going to do that.

The feature story recently was about the members of Congress who were going to institute the unconstitutional 90% tax on a group of AIG workers, and we found that that to be absolutely ludicrous as well as unconstitutional as well as immoral. And I use that word immoral because (Gulf Coast Business Review Editor) Rod Thomson wrote a marvelous article about what we have now is a state of immorality in our financial system and in our Congress. I think it's very important that we push that issue. They are inextricably linked.

The Obama administration is a cornucopia of great news stories, but it's a scary situation, a very scary situation.

Q. Do you see the conservative movement moving more to the center or further to the right as it positions itself for the 2010 and 2012 elections?

A. We're starting to get some members of Congress that are very conservative, and are going to write for us. We're starting to get people who really understand the constitution. I know we've talked to Newt Gingrich about contributing. That's on the national level. Still again, the focus of Red County is on the county — a writer in every county in the United States of America and that's the power of Red County.

A lot of our writers are either already syndicated writers, like Kay B. Day up in Jacksonville. Joan Swirsky used to write for the New York Times company.

Q. Do you see Red County morphing into something else?

A. We have to be careful. Red County is at a tipping point. I don't want to speak for any of the guys that run Red County. We've grown so fast in terms of editors and writers that now we need to be careful who we pick. I want it to continue to grow and be sort of a controlled wild west. I want it to be a Dodge City with a sheriff, a really good sheriff — Wyatt Earp.

We never want to lose that blogger mentality, and we believe that the blogosphere in Red County self-corrects. If we're caught saying something we can't back up, we'll change it. That's sort of the new media mentality which is: your credibility is the most important thing as a blogger. If you lose that credibility then you'll lose readership. It's a free market system.

We have some that write better than others, we have some that write more than others. We have some that write about many things and some write about one thing. That's what this new media is all about. I think Red County is perfectly positioned to take advantage of that and the move, the sea change, of concern about our constitution, the basic fundamental founding father principles and beliefs.

I spend somewhere between 12-14 hours a day blogging for Red County and I don't get paid. But I love it.

Q. So how are you able to do this?

A. It's just fun. I get retirement and I started an internet company and sold it. Jack Tymann writes for me. He's a wonderful writer, and he is the former CEO of GE International. He contributes from Naples. He's also a radio personality down there. He's very active politically.

Locally, I have Don O'Neskey. He is a retired lieutenant colonel who provides me with a daily — we call it “The Right Stuff.” He has a friend of his out in Montana who is a retired Air Force brigadier who is a prolific writer — former Brigadier General Cash. We're going to try to recruit him to open up a county in Montana. It's just sort of viral.

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