On December 4th, StandWatch.org and StandWatch America held our first annual D37 Legislative Dinner at the Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston, West Virginia . At this event, veterans, business leaders, and elected officials, from all over the state gathered to talk about the role that veterans can play in the political process, and StandWatch.org’s program to promote entrepreneurship and civic education in young people.
The following prepared remarks were presented by Zac Northup and lay out StandWatch’s goals for 2018.
Hello, my name is Zac Northup and I am one of the co-founders of StandWatch.org. I want to thank everyone for coming out tonight. I can’t tell you how honored I am to have so many incredible people here. It really is humbling.
Batting cleanup for a group like this is scary. I mean seriously, how do you follow someone like Woody Williams. Woody joined our board of advisors about thirty days after we first formed back in 2015, and every time I have asked him to help us spread the word about various things, he’s been there. Thank you Woody.
StandWatch.org is going to do a bunch of great things in 2018, but I’m here to talk about just two of them. When we first started, it was in response to a report that said 300,000 veterans died waiting for healthcare. When I read that number, I thought it was a typo, but it wasn’t. So a week later, we formed as a WV nonprofit, with the objective of building a mobile clinic that we could take to rural areas and small towns to provide free basic health assessments. On a shoestring budget and mostly borrowed equipment, we did our first clinic in February 2016, and over the last 2 ½ years, we have had some really successful clinics. we’ve also had some that were not.
A word of advice for anyone thinking about getting into the mobile health clinic business; no matter how enthusiastic you are about your idea, never set up a medical tent in February when it’s 26 degrees outside, at 6:30 in the morning, and expect people to come to see a doctor. No one in their right mind will show up. We did it. It was my idea. Lesson learned.
From that lesson, a couple months later, we held our most successful clinic at Run For the Wall when 300 bikers stopped in Hurricane, and in the space of about three hours, we saw 22 patients, most of them Vietnam veterans, suffering from things like dehydration, sunburn, lacerations, and even one gentleman who was suffering atrial fibrillation. It was a huge success for us, and about nine months from inception, a well-needed validation or our concept.
About that time, we realized though that we were actually underserving the veteran “market”. As it turns out, through anecdote and experience, we learned that about 20% of veterans want or need some sort of assistance. Now that doesn’t mean that 20% need healthcare, it simply means that a small percentage need assistance with VA loans, others need help navigating the bureacracy, still others may want help with homelessness. But that leaves 80% of veterans who have no issue at all, and if they share any common trait, they get involved in their communities.
So we started experimenting, beta-testing if you will, with small events where we teamed veterans and current members of the military with high school and college students to see what would happen. It was my hope that the kids would learn leadership skills, and the veterans would have a vehicle for getting even more involved in the community through service projects the group found together.
So we developed student/veteran endurance hikes – 12 to 16 miles each, through some really incredible terrain. Three of these hikes were in the mountains of North Carolina, and three were in West Virginia. Again, they were experiments, and we learned a lot from them. It was through these that the idea for StandWatch Academy developed.
StandWatch Academy’s mission is to take a group of high school students and teach them how to conceptualize, launch, and run their own social enterprises, nonprofits, Christian missions, and public policy campaigns. Some of the instruction will take place outdoors; some of it in places like the State Capitol building. No matter where we are, we’re going to emphasize not only basic business skills – entrepreneurship, marketing, business planning, and leadership – but to also give them a foundation in civics, history, and public policy.
Now some of you are probably saying, “What?” What does entrepreneurship have to do with civics and history? Well, as everyone in this room knows, for better or worse, government defines the environment in which all businesses operate. We are going to show the students how government truly works, up close and personal, so when they go to formulate their own plans for social enterprises or nonprofits, they know how to avoid regulatory and political walls, that will ultimately cause them to fail. That’s absolutely critical for success in today’s world. We have to teach them how business and government coexist and work together.
Now why are we including anything related to history. It’s simple. Too many people, in too many fields set off on new endeavors without realizing how their plans fit with historical precedent. Why is that? Well, for generations now, kids have been taught that if they want to get ahead in life, they need to shun liberal arts degrees and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. This has produced a situation where we now have millions of people around the country, young and old, who cannot carry on an intelligent conversation about history, economics, politics, civics, or religion. Historical ignorance has become a punchline – a gimmick – for late night comedians and opportunists in Washington who want to exploit that ignorance for their own purposes. That’s why we now live in an era where we tear down monuments and the people who shout the loudest define who we are as a nation. That has to stop.
Shakespeare wasn’t a scientist, Mozart wasn’t an engineer, and Thomas Jefferson knew absolutely nothing about Facebook and Twitter, but I think few would argue that these men, and other luminaries who made our country great, wasted their lives pursuing irrelevant careers. We have lost touch with the academic disciplines that define us outside a mathematical algorithm.
In order to succeed in business, public policy, and really, almost any endeavor, you have to know who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.
So StandWatch Academy is going to use veterans to teach leadership, discipline, and history; small business leaders to teach entrepreneurship; and elected officials to help them learn about public policy. We think it’s the recipe for righting the ship and instilling a true sense of hope and opportunity that will inspire local social entrepreneurs and make our state an even better place to live.
One sidebar about the leadership; if any organization knows how to teach young people how to become leaders, it’s the United States military. Where other organizations can’t trust an 18 year-old to answer the phone, the military can teach that same kid how to make life or death decisions. That’s why we will use veterans to teach these kids how to become leaders. They know how do it because they lived it.
So we are here tonight to kick-off the first class of StandWatch Academy and introduce them to their first block of instruction; a legislative internship program. We have invited 14 students from Teays Valley Christian School and they all enthusiastically signed up. They will do their own policy research, strategic communications planning, and lobbying, and in the process, they will come to understand how they can work WITH government instead of against it. As far as I know, there isn’t another program that takes this kind of approach to entrepreneurial training and I personally can’t wait to see where it ends up.
With that, I’d like to introduce you to these young men and women by name, but I’m not going to call them up. This program is about creating valuable experience, not stagecraft; they’re here to work, and the job started tonight. So, in alphabetical order, the 2018 StandWatch Legislative Interns are:
- Chris Randolph
- Holly Edwards
- Emily Hatfield
- Grace Holstein
- Kathryn Alley
- Paige Blust
- Katiebeth Bowens
- Holli Bragg
- Caroline Moses
- Sophie Northup
- Devin Danford
- Keibler Mata
- Meredith Northup
- Cole Young
The first class of StandWatch Academy. Please give them a round of applause. They’re going to learn how to do great things.
This leads us to the second initiative, and its one that I think will, in all seriousness, redefine politics in West Virginia.
When we first launched StandWatch.org, we were laser focused on providing services. We wanted to put boots on the ground, and create “Expeditions for Good”. I didn’t want to do anything that would cause us to deviate from that course. But, being the policy geek that I am, I was recently reading a journal on nonprofit management published by Stanford University, and came across an article entitled, “Creating High Impact Nonprofits.”
In the article researchers looked at the shared characteristics of highly successful nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, Teach America, and others. One of the lessons that came out of this study; number one on the list is this:
“Ultimately, all high-impact organizations bridge the divide between service and advocacy.”
This got me thinking about how could this apply to us. Our StandWatch’s core mission is to work with veterans to improve our communities. That requires us to connect with veterans all over the state of West Virginia. So looking at this from a political advocacy perspective, we could be a key piece in a big grassroots puzzle. How big is the puzzle? The numbers are a little shocking.
Depending on what source you use, there are anywhere between 147,000 to 178,000 veterans in the State of West Virginia. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the current number at 151,000, so that’s the number I use. Geographically, they are in every county, every political district, and in some districts, every precinct.
- According to the Secretary of State’s office, there were 713,000 votes cast in the presidential race in West Virginia in 2016.
- According to the NYT, nationwide, veterans had a 71% participation rate. I think its probably higher in WV. 20% higher than the general population.
- So, if we use that number, 107,000 of the 713,000 votes cast in WV were veterans, or 15%.
But if you look at the extended impact of the veteran vote, this number gets even bigger. Academic research shows that families tend to share similar voting patterns; they share values so they tend to vote the same way. Not always, but usually. So, just using a conservative multiple of three, the reach and impact of the veteran vote grows from 107,000 to 321,000, or 45% of all votes cast in WV. I doubt there’s another state where the impact of the veteran vote approaches that number.
Now this doesn’t mean they all vote as a block, or for one party. According to the NYT exit poll, nationwide, 67% voted Republican and 22% voted Democrat. The point is that we vote, and at a higher level than almost any other group.
What do these numbers mean for local races? Well, I looked at all the returns, and applied a model. I found there were at least six state senate districts, and 24 house races where the veteran vote exceeded the margin of victory in 2016. Now, I tried to fine tune the model to account for the statistical havoc created by the house multi-member districts, we could add another 13 house races to the list. where the veteran vote had a major impact on the outcome. So in at least 37 house districts, veterans probably decided the winner. BTW all the data is available on our website.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s huge. Absolutely huge. If we could somehow coalesce 30% to 40% of the veteran vote around an issue, there’s no stopping it. Whatever that issue is. But even beyond that, what do you think can happen if this group could band together and inspire more veterans to run for public office? That would be a transformative force for the State of West Virginia.
To that end, we are announcing the launch of a new 501c4 organization called StandWatch America. Its mission is threefold; find more veterans to run for office, support information campaigns about issues we care about, and provide research to any candidate interested in helping veterans develop policies that help all West Virginians. Specifically, we want to:
- Improve economic opportunity
- Think innovatively about how we educate our children
- Seek ways to create entrepreneurial centers across rural areas and small towns
- Reduce the burden of regulations and taxes
- Promote an environment where candidates can speak clearly about their beliefs without political grandstanding. (By the way, if you’re in this room, you don’t fall into that category.)
When it comes down to it, veterans are like a thread, wending its way through the fabric of the state, making it stronger. I think that’s a role that we need to play. We made the nation stronger when we were in uniform, there’s no reason why we can make the state stronger now. That is what StandWatch America is going to do. It will be a unifying force for all West Virginians.
So, StandWatch Academy, and StandWatch America; those are THE two things for us in 2018, and together, they’ll be a force for change that ultimately supports our Expeditions for Good. It’s is going to be awesome, and with the help of the people in this room, it’s going to be a transformative year for us, the students, veterans, and the communities we want to serve.
That concludes the evening, but before we go I need to thank some people for their help and support.
First, my wife
Mitch, Ryan, and Eric – When I first developed the idea to bridge the gap between services and advocacy, I decided to try the pitch on my local state senator to see how the idea would be received. Well, I live in Hurricane, and it just so happens that my state senator happens to be the President of the State Senate, Mitch Carmichael. I called his office, and to my surprise, was walking into his office at the Capitol. Senator Ryan Ferns and Eric Tarr were also there. I went through my concept and asked for their help. Now, I worked Capitol Hill in Washington for close to 17 years, and frankly, I was expecting equivocation; something like, “This is great. Let us talk about it and we’ll get back.” That wasn’t want happened. After I finished, Mitch simply said, “Yes. I’m in. 100%. How can I help.” From that point on, all three of these leaders – Mitch Carmichael, Ryan Ferns, and Eric Tarr – displayed the kind of decisive leadership that this state needs. It shows their commitment to veterans, education, and the future that really matters. This evening, here tonight, could not have happened without their help. I want to thank all three of them.
Jack Davis and Jody Sowards
The Sponsors (Murray Energy, WV American Water, E. J. Tarr Family Businesses, City National Bank, Jordan Smith Electric, and Pinnacle Solutions).
With the support of men like Mike and Woody. We must be doing something right.
Thank you all for coming.