Allan Escher isn't getting a funny hat or some crazy buttons for the Republican National Convention. Sure, he wouldn't mind a photo with his party's nominee, Mitt Romney. The Land O'Lakes anesthesiologist gets really excited about the prime networking opportunities at the four-day gala in Tampa.
"I want to connect with Republicans that are in various troubled states where it's got to be tough to be a Republican," he said, ticking off a list of deep-blue states in the Northeast. His mind then wandered to President Barack Obama's home state.
"I want to talk to Republicans in Illinois," he said. "How do they survive?"
Escher, 48, will be attending his first national convention as a "special honored guest." His journey began in February, when he and a dozen others met in Inverness for the chance to represent Florida's 5th Congressional District. After giving a stump speech to party leaders, he was selected as an alternate delegate. "This was not, 'Just sign up and we'll make you a delegate,' " he said.
Growing up in Dallas, Escher learned an appreciation for the free market system and limited government from his dad, a university professor. His three heroes as a kid: Pope John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.
Escher is what political operatives call a super voter. He registered at 18, and voted in his first presidential election two years later, helping Reagan win in a landslide in 1984. He said he never misses an election. "I'm one of those people that vote in those special elections that nobody votes in," he said.
He's not strictly a political animal. In 2010 he was commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel. He doesn't know exactly why he was picked to be the commonwealth's goodwill ambassador, but he thinks it has to do with his support of Florida's fledgling prescription drug database that was modeled after Kentucky's law.
Only sitting colonels can nominate new members, so last year Escher took the opportunity to invite Kate Middleton. That was four months before she married Prince William in front of 3 billion people and took a grander title: Duchess of Cambridge.
Escher is also a history buff. Shortly after moving here, he joined the Tampa Rough Riders group that commemorates Teddy Roosevelt's cavalry division in the Spanish-American War in 1898. He is also a member of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant Yago.
He received a bachelor's degree at the University of North Texas and earned his medical degree at Kansas City University. After completing a three-year residency at the University of Michigan, he settled in Pasco County in 2001. His wife, Stephanie, is a Tampa native and they have three children: Emily, Laura and Pace.
Escher does most of his anesthesia work at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and Florida Hospital Carrollwood. He also has his own company, Tranquility Anesthesia. He recently stepped down after four years on the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine.
Jose Sarria, the director of pain medicine services at Moffitt, praised Escher's work to shape Florida's prescription database. As the only pain management specialist on Florida's doctor advisory panels, Escher provided detailed information about unscrupulous doctors to legislators and law enforcement.
"When you're looking for bad apples, if you know how the bad apples look and smell, it's a lot easier," Sarria said. "You protect the good apples from being afraid of treating and helping the right people."
In May, he went on his first medical mission trip to Lourdes, France, with the Order of Malta. "I saw a lot of healing, both physically and spiritually," said Escher, who attends St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Lutz.
Such charity work provides a bond with his friend Tammy Denbo, a Tampa lawyer who has been on seven missions to Haiti. She called Escher a "light-hearted, bubbly personality" who gets animated when talking about plans for future trips.
"It's actually very few (professionals) that take the time from their families and careers to do this mission work," she said.
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Until just a week before the convention, Escher was on tenterhooks. Florida's slate of voting delegates was cut from 99 to 50 as punishment for scheduling an early presidential primary in violation of national party rules. Escher was concerned he might not be seated at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
But on Tuesday party officials announced a compromise. Florida won't get its votes back, but all the delegates will be seated on the convention floor. Non-voting delegates are dubbed honored guests.
Escher's Catholic faith gives him a philosophical belief in universal health coverage. But he's no fan of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, saying the individual insurance requirement oversteps the federal government's limited role.
"There has to be some type of compromise where both parties can ensure some type of coverage for all Americans," he said.
Escher said he and other activists will work like crazy to elect Romney and other Republicans. But after the election, he said both parties must come together to tackle the big problems of the day: creating a sensible tax structure, improving the economy, and providing affordable health care to all Americans.
"We have to work hard for the independent vote," he said. "I want to make sure our party remains relevant. I want it relevant 10 years from now, 50 years from now."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.