Edgy Interview: Jason Roe
I first got to know Jason Roe over lunch I’d invited him to at the old-school Bully’s North in Del Mar. I had a salad, he had some red meat dish. I pitched him on CERC’s abilities and how we help clients win. He listened and talked about how he wanted to build Revolvis in San Diego. We both put ourselves out there without pretense – something you don’t always get in the political game – and I found it refreshing. The result is that, in a tough local environment, we’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost on efforts we’ve partnered on. I expect that to continue with his new firm Roe Strategic. Here’s Jason at his unvarnished, revealing and direct best.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when grew up?
Believe it or not a political consultant. My father was executive director of the Michigan Republican Party for ten years and then became a consultant, so I grew up in the business. When I was leaving for college and told him what I wanted to do, he tried desperately to send me a different route and I remember him saying “it’s not a full-time job.” Well in his day maybe not, but it sure is today.
What’s the best thing about the USA?
There are so many things that are the cause of America’s exceptionalism but the effect is, in my opinion, the high standard of living. I’ve traveled to more than 30 countries, many of them in the developing world and witnessed poverty that Americans couldn’t possibly fathom. Two years ago I visited a refugee camp in Rwanda and met children who’ve never known anything but those camps. They live in mud huts with no electricity, no reliable source of food, and little hope of getting out. Compare that to the range of services and opportunities we provide to those who are willing and able to pull themselves out of poverty in the U.S., or care for those who can’t.
What’s the most important issue facing California, why, and what should be done about it?
The most pressing problem facing California is the power of organized labor. They literally control Democratic politicians at the state and local level. They have a stranglehold on the San Diego City Council, with five Democrats who won’t blow their nose without permission from their union masters.
If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?
LBJ. I’d like him to walk me through his role in the assassination of JFK.
What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what is it now?
I grew up in an urban area in Michigan and only listened to hip-hop. A DJ in my neighborhood, Kenny White, used to sell mix tapes out of the trunk of his car and we’d get most of our music from him since they didn’t play rap on the radio. I still remember when Rapper’s Delight, Double Dutch Bus, and The Message came out when I was about 10. In high school, we’d drive to Detroit on Saturday nights so we could get the signal for WJLB and WHYT and record “The Wizard” and “The Electrifying Mojo,” two DJ’s who had late night mix shows. That’s the first time I heard the Beastie Boys, the song was a B-side called, “She’s On It,” and I was a fan immediately. I still have some of those tapes. I still listen to hip-hop but mostly old school, but love Rick Ross. Overall, I’m probably more of a classic rock fan today. Note: One of my classmates, Kwami Kilpatrick, was eventually elected the “Hip-Hop Mayor” in Detroit.
First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?
The first concert I tried to attend was Run-DMC/Beastie Boys “Together Forever” tour at the Fox Theater in Detroit. During the warm up act, Fishbone, the venue caught fire and was evacuated. After the fire was put out, they let everyone back in, but I had actually eaten my ticket (I had a bad paper-eating habit as a kid) so couldn’t get back in. My friend’s uncle owned a dive bar down the street, so I went there and slept on the bar while my friends went to the concert.
Who is your favorite artist — any medium – and why?
Prince. A more talented and creative musician has never walked the earth.
Favorite sport and why?
Despite my deep animosity for the NFL, pro football remains my favorite. I actually broke up with my now wife in college prior to football season because I didn’t want the distraction of a girlfriend during the weekends. And we planned our wedding for August so I’d never have an anniversary celebration during the season. The year we married (20 years ago this year), the NFL decided to experiment with starting the season early and so I missed opening weekend flying to Hawaii for our honeymoon. I did get to watch the Bears-Packers game on MNF though.
What’s your favorite memory from sports and when did it happen?
There are two: The Michigan State Spartans victory over Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl and the 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl with my dad in Detroit in 1982.
Someone wants the best pizza in town, where do you send them and what should they get?
Bronx Pizza. It’s the best in the world and pizza should be pizza, not a cobb salad: cheese and/or pepperoni.
When you retire, what’s your second career going to be, if any?
I want to own a bar. Liberals have made that harder with their foolish minimum wage policies, but I still think it would be fun.
Most people say they got a lucky break at some point. Tell us about yours.
I was lucky by who my political mentors were, former California Congressman Jim Rogan (now a Superior Court Judge), and former Florida Congressman Tom Feeney (now CEO of Associated Industries of Florida), who both taught me about putting principles ahead of politics. Jim lost his seat in Dem-leaning district after serving as a House Manager during the Clinton Impeachment, and Tom stood up to the Bush Administration to oppose the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill (the largest expansion of the Great Society since LBJ) under intense pressure from every powerful political constituency under the sun. Both had every political incentive to take the popular route and both ignored it and paid a price.
What advice do you have for young people starting out in your profession?
Go to Washington. No matter how low you are on the totem pole, there’s no place you can go to learn more about this business. Campaigns aren’t just wins and losses, they determine who makes policies that affect all of us. I think it is important to understand the impact campaigns have on governing and vice versa. It is also a very unique experience where you meet amazing people, see amazing things, and are in the city with more impact on the world than anywhere else on the globe.
If you could return to a place you’ve traveled, where would you go?
Egypt. I was there for a few weeks doing advance for Vice President Cheney after 9/11 and spent time in Cairo and Sharm el Sheikh. There is so much amazing history there and while those two cities are polar opposites, both are incredible. (I also went on safari in Tanzania two years ago, that was pretty damn cool).
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be born into great wealth and never have to work. I’d be an amazing dilettante.