By Julie Kessel, President, LWVSPA
I am so excited to introduce our keynote speaker today: Rob Lorei, one of Tampa Bay’s longest-standing political commentators. I’m inclined to say that Rob Lorei needs no introduction, and on some level I think that’s true. But that really would not do justice to the person that Rob Lorei is, what he has accomplished, and the important role that he plays in our community.
Everyone knows Rob Lorei. He is a trusted friend, a virtual companion, and an on-air confidante. He is also the reasoned facilitator of passionate exchanges, the insightful and gentle inquisitor, and the reserved and skillful provacateur of disparate points of view on heated topics.
Though we may think we know what Rob is thinking, I suggest that we really don’t. He doesn’t actually tell us. We only know that we trust him to be a fair steward to the exchange of ideas, and accept without hesitation that his interest in our point of view is genuine.
Rob is, of course, a journalist, moderator and commentator. His roots are in radio, having cut his teeth as a radio talk show host on NPR as a college student at Antioch College in PEnnsylvania. After earning his degree in journalism there, he made his way to Tampa to chase the opportunity to help start a community radio station. For most, that would have remained only a dream. But for Rob it became the foundation for his life’s work. We now all know that station as WMNF, where Rob was a founding staffer and has now been News and Public Affairs Director for over 20 years.
In 2001 Rob ventured in to television, assuming the anchor seat of Tampa Bay Week at WEDU, the show we know today as “Florida This Week”, where he is the shows managing editor.
In his many years covering politics in West Central Florida, Rob has moderated numerous televised political debates, including the Florida attorney general’s race, the Tampa mayoral race, the U.S. Senate primaries, and the gubernatorial primaries. He’s also interviewed hundreds of political notables including Gov. Charlie Crist, Bill Moyers, former President Jimmy Carter, Ralph Nader, Janet Reno, Al Franken, Sen. Bob Graham, and John Dean.
As moderator of WEDU’s Florida This Week, Rob leads a diverse roundtable of journalists, academics, officials, and other political insiders every Friday for lively talk on the political issues facing Floridians.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Rob invites us, regular citizens, to express our ideas, on issues important to us, to our community, and to our quality of life, and to exchange those ideas with others. On his shows, we are all important, we have a voice, and we have the opportunity to learn, advocate, and engage.
As you all know, the League of women voters describes as its mission that is a non partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in governments, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. That’s what Rob does; he invites people to become involved in their communities through discussion and exchange of ideas.
The work Rob does gives voice to issues of relevance in our region and promotes active discussion and engagement in democracy, which is at the heart of our mission. Recent topics on his show, Radioactivity, have included issues close to the heart of the League: topics including health care expansion, environmental risks to farm workers, fair democracy, on line voter registration, social justice and gender politics; and that’s just this month!
Just last week, I was doing errands, driving around, and as I usually do I turn on the radio and hear Rob’s show. Rob happened to be discussing an issue very close to my heart: Medicaid expansion and the legislative session. At the same time, he had intermingled the topic of vaccination opponents, another issue close to my heart. As a physician, I’m deeply invested in individual preventative and community health. In fact, I have a number of opinions about those topics. I thought about calling in. Instead, I arrived at my destination and opted to stay in the car for a few more minutes to hear what others in my community had to say. Rob handled the disparate views with mastery and sensitivity. I smiled as I got out of the car. I smiled because I’m not so sure I would have handled those callers quite so deftly. But I also smiled because I knew Rob at that time was going to be our speaker in just a few more days.
Rob has the principles of the League in his blood. He is also a trailblazer. Tampa Bay is unique to have its own listener supported community radio from 1979. WMNF public affairs programming and artists have been a steady voice, never shying away from the tough issues. After having been host to many voices on many issues, Rob’s point of view is unique, informative, insightful, and engaging.
Rob lives with his family in Tampa. We know that he is taking coveted time out of his busy life to be us today. We are grateful to him for his support of the League; and we look very forward to his comments here today.