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A restaurateur's long day at the Republican convention

The seat assigned to Frank Steed at the Republican National Convention was reported by Bloomberg News to be the worst in the 21,000-person arena. But a blocked view didn’t stop the restaurant-chain veteran from seeing plenty the TV cameras overlooked.

For one thing, there was the patience and stamina required of Steed and his fellow delegates. he would take his seat an hour before the program started and virtually stick there for the duration—12 hours on Day One and six to seven hours on Nights Two and Three.

“You’re expected to be in your seat the whole time in case there’s a floor vote,” explained Steed.  “If you need to get up, the alternative takes your place.”

Yet little is actually decided in floor votes because most decisions of substance, from the platform to procedural issues, were made before the convention started.

Still, after having his view of the podium blocked by a glass wall, staring at his reflection for hours at a time, the former Tony Roma’s and Country Kitchen chief came away with the conviction that every politically minded restaurateur should serve as a party delegate at least once. Just be prepared to pay a price, figuratively and literally.

“You pay all your own costs, so this is not an inexpensive thing,” said Steed, who now builds and repairs franchise systems through his own company, The Steed Consultancy.

He and other members of the Texas delegation couldn’t even prowl Expedia or Hotels.com for a deal because they were expected to stay at the assigned place, a hotel some 20 miles from the convention center in downtown Tampa.  

The payback was access to the party’s standouts, present and future.

Every morning the delegation was addressed by luminaries like Gov. Rick Perry and potential 2016 candidate Rick Santorum. Then they’d bus down to the convention hall for more food for thought.

“What you don’t see on television are all the speakers who go on in the three hours before you get the big names at the podium,” said Steed. “These are the up-and-comers, the young people you’ve never heard of,” like Congressional candidates or Republican mayors of smaller cities.

“Some of them were just fantastic. I was very surprised at the bench strength of our party, and I’m sure it’s the same with the other party,” Steed says.

Then there was the unexpected break in routine from an 82 -year-old former restaurateur and one-time mayor of Carmel-By-the-Sea, Calif. Even before he started to speak with an invisible Obama, Clint Eastwood had people smiling and scratching their heads.  

“It was nice comic relief,” says Steed. “You have to keep in mind, it had been speech after speech after speech. Suddenly, you have this icon up there. It took a while to catch on to what he was doing. But we just laughed.

“If you can’t take some of this with some humor, we’ve gotten way off the road.”

After he ended his maiden stint as a convention delegate, Steed snapped on C-SPAN to watch the Democrats’ gathering in Charlotte, N.C.  He acknowledged that he enjoyed the speeches and admired the presentations, though “obviously I don’t agree with them.”

That’s not a reason to tune them out, he stressed. “If you’re not listening to both parties, you’re not able to participate knowledgeably in the discussion.”

Steed said his service as a convention delegate isn’t something he’d be eager to repeat. But, he stressed, it’s something every person should experience, to get a deeper appreciation of the process and the people whom we choose to govern.

It’s also provided more control of his destiny, he asserted.

After years of talking to his elected officials’ aides and minions, now he’s able to arrange visits with the legislators themselves. “I have the ability to make an impact,” said Steed.

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