Vincent Harris Named “New Voice for 2015”

Washington Examiner
April 20, 2015
By Jimmy Sonni

The Washington Examiner’s editors and reporters have identified the intellectuals, policymakers, think tank leaders, campaign operatives, candidates, pols, pundits, wonks and others who are pushing our thinking and testing the limits of political possibility.

Some names on this list are already familiar to many; others will be virtual unknowns. This is as it should be. We set out to find people who are not yet fully in plain view above the horizon, which is why you won’t find party leaders or presidential hopefuls on this list. Instead, we sought out talented iconoclasts whose ideas on politics and policy are likely to be heard and should be listened to — but who may not earn the attention of the national media on a regular basis.

From a 26-year-old MIT graduate student challenging Thomas Piketty to a Navy SEAL making a run for the Missouri governor’s mansion to a long-time Cato Institute leader launching a brand-new think tank, we’ve identified individuals whose projects and passions run the gamut. Remember these names — and look for them to shape our politics in the years to come.

1. Charles Blahous

Blahous is a public trustee for the Social Security and Medicare programs, as well as a senior research fellow for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Policymakers regularly turn to him for his analysis on our entitlement programs, and he will gain prominence over the next year as these debates heat up. He’s well respected as a neutral referee when it comes to the future of entitlements, which will be all the more needed as the Disability Insurance program comes closer to running out of money and the debates surrounding it grow more frequent and intense. Expect Blahous’ well reasoned voice to rise above those of pundits who are in denial of the crisis facing Social Security.

2. Carlos Curbelo

Curbelo is a freshman GOP representative from Florida and delivered the Spanish response to the State of the Union. Already a favorite of party leaders, Curbelo has distinguished himself as an unapologetically moderate GOP voice on immigration. His policies reflect his background and his constituents: He’s the son of Cuban exiles, and he represents a district brimming with immigrants. Curbelo unseated a Democratic incumbent by four percent in 2014, and though his position on immigration may put him at odds with the party’s rank-and-file, Curbelo’s growing profile may burnish the kind of big-tent Republicanism the party hopes to showcase going into an election year.

3. Rob Engstrom

Along with the Chamber of Commerce’s senior political strategist Scott Reed, Rob Engstrom is credited with engineering a strong show of political force from the Chamber in 2014. Though he’s now its senior vice president and national political director, Engstrom cut his teeth as a state-level operative for the Chamber and before that as director of the Division of Political Education at the RNC. With strong ties to Jeb Bush — he took a one-month leave from the Chamber to help jump-start Bush’s political committee, Right To Rise — expect this relentless Georgia native to make waves in the year ahead.

4. Dan Epstein

Dan Epstein’s organization, Cause of Action, is a leader in the world of government transparency and accountability. It advocates for FOIA reform laws, files lawsuits and conducts its own research and investigations. Called the “most active nonprofit you’ve never heard of,” Cause of Action has investigated everything from Hillary Clinton’s violations of the Federal Records Act, to possible fraud in a visa-for-cash program administered by the DHS, to overbilling by the Chicago Transit Authority. Epstein is no newcomer to the accountability game: Before his work at Cause of Action, he served on the Counsel for Oversight and Investigations at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Expect Epstein and Cause of Action to stay in the headlines as they work to hold the powerful accountable.

5. Deborah Gist

Tulsa’s newly-installed schools chief was the school board’s unanimous pick. But that didn’t stop teachers from walking out upon news of her selection. That’s because Gist’s reputation precedes her: named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2010, her six-year tenure as Rhode Island education commissioner brought a wave of reforms to the state’s schools, including revised teacher evaluations, ramped-up testing, and an end to the state cap on charter schools. All of this drew the ire of the state’s teachers union, and while Gist took pains not to call out the unions directly, her actions as education commissioner made her a target. Now, this Tulsa native is taking her talents back to her hometown, and though she’s new to the superintendent job, this former teacher and statewide policy-maker is sure to bring her reformist instincts to the new post.

6. Garret Graves

Elected in late 2014, Graves went from serving as a longtime congressional aide, to running the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, to winning a run-off to secure his own congressional seat. A Baton Rouge native, Graves breaks with many of his Republican colleagues on climate issues — he’s called denial of sea rise in Louisiana “idiotic” — but his prescriptions about how to approach global warming avoid the usual fare of tighter regulatory restrictions and expensive engineering projects. For Graves, finding free-market and incentive-based solutions to environmental problems has helped win over some skeptics, and earned him a seat in Congress.

7. Eric Greitens

A Rhodes Scholar, Navy SEAL, best-selling author and the founder of veteran’s charity The Mission Continues, Greitens is a Republican candidate for governor of Missouri. While he’s new to the political world of the Show-Me State, he’s already emerged as a powerful voice and equally powerful fundraiser, whose military and academic accomplishments are as impressive as they come. The race for the Missouri governorship has been marked by tragedy — a top Republican candidate, state auditor Tom Schweich, committed suicide in late February — but Schweich’s death held up a mirror to the state’s bitter politics. Missouri political circles are in a period of searching self-reflection, in which a fresh-faced candidacy like Greitens’s might be welcome.

8. Vincent Harris

“Can Rand Paul troll his way to the White House?” the Washington Post mused. It was referring to Sen. Rand Paul’s aggressive, needling use of social media against his rivals. It’s a strategy that is sure to serve as a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign, and the architect behind those jabs is none other than Vincent Harris, a young digital guru who Paul poached from Sen. Ted Cruz. What does Harris have in store for the wide-open GOP primaries? No one is quite sure yet, but Harris, whom Bloomberg dubbed “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet,” is a figure to watch as the race heats up.

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Vincent Harris, founder and CEO of Harris Media LLC, in the Austin, TX office

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