PALM BEACH, Florida – U.S. Representatives Mark Green (R-TN-07) was the featured speaker and Matt Gaetz (R-FL-01) was the special guest speaker at the 917 Society’s constitution celebration held at the Mar-a-Lago Club on Saturday evening.
Both congressmen were greeted with enthusiastic standing ovations on their introductions to about 200 supporters of the 917 Society, about double the number of attendees in 2022, who gathered in the club’s grand ballroom for a gourmet dinner that followed a cocktail hour held poolside.
The 917 Society, founded by Tennessee’s Joni Bryant, is a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides a free program for Constitution Day each year. In 2004, congress passed a law requiring all students attending schools that receive federal funds have a program on or around September 17, the day our Constitution was signed in 1787. The 917 Society, a grassroots effort that receives no state or federal funds, provides free of charge educational resources, videos and, most notably, pocket constitutions to 8th grade students and teachers.
Bryan and Robert Sutton, a Broward County public school educator, emceed the event, introducing Rodgar McCalmon as Abraham Lincoln who led the Pledge of Allegiance, Christian author Robin D. Bullock who said the prayer and his wife Robin R. Bullock who led the National Anthem. Bryan also introduced the procession of 917 Society Founders Club members in attendance as well as table sponsors.
Green was introduced by 917 Society Founders Club Vice President Lee Beaman. The long time, Nashville-area businessman shared that former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that Green – who was a state senator at the time – was possibly the most impressive state-level politician he has ever encountered who has a great future on the national scene.
Beaman also mentioned that for the first time in decades, a second-term congressman has been chosen of a major standing committee, alluding to Green’s recent appointment to the Homeland Security Committee.
Mark Green is a West Point graduate who joined the Army Rangers. After earning his medical degree while in the armed forces, Green served as a special operations flight surgeon. Six years after his military career ended in 2006, Green ran and won a seat in the Tennessee State Senate, where he served two terms. When then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) announced her bid to replace retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in 2018, Green ran for and won the congressional seat.
The sophomore congressman later documented an overnight encounter with the ruthless Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on the night of his capture in the book, A Night with Saddam.
Holding up the pocket constitution that the 917 Society provides to students often during his talk, Green said that our founders understood that absolute power corrupts absolutely and when power is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, “You get tyranny every time.”
Therefore, the founders separated powers into three “supposedly” equal branches of government, “And then they did something even more brilliant,” Green said.
“They separated power between the federal level and the state level and the local level. And they created this thing called the 10th Amendment which essentially limited not the states, not the local government, but the federal government in Washington,” Green said as he was drowned out with applause.
Green observed, “There are two trends, and one result happening in our country right now that are putting that concept, our nation and our freedoms at risk.”
“Trend number one,” Green said, “is the divergence in the ideologies of our two parties. We [Republicans] are becoming more conservative, more nationalist, more for America, more for the constitution.”
The Democrat party, said Green – using AOCs position of universal rent control as an example – is coming right out of communist manifesto.
The second trend Green calls “end around federalism,” when the federal government dictates how money sent back to the states is spent on education, roads and healthcare.
“There’s only one solution, and it’s in the book,” Green said, holding up a pocket constitution as he did numerous times throughout his talk. “It’s called Article X. We can save America by simply restoring federalism,” Green encouraged.
As a demonstration of the concept, Green said his first call following his appointment as Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, was with Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He told Abbott, “We’re going to block grant you the money to fund the wall in your state,” which received cheers and applause from the attendees.
Green admitted, “This isn’t going to be an easy battle,” but acknowledging Gaetz’s efforts during the House Speaker election, said, “Look what they did to change the rules of the House.”
Using the Biblical story of David taking down Goliath with five stones from a brook as inspiration, Green concluded, “We can take these people on. We can take our country back. We can take this nation. We can make sure that power is spread out across this nation, that it’s spread between the branches of government, that our nation endures, that freedom endures and tyranny is crushed forever.”
Gaetz, introduced by Sutton one who needs no introduction said he is serving his fourth term in the U.S. House and, having one of the highest concentrations of military in his district, is a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee
In response to the very enthusiastic reception in his introduction, Gaetz admitted, “Yes, I am the extreme MAGA Republican,” adding that he thought about reporting the Tweet as an in-kind donation to his re-election campaign, “because I don’t think the things we believe in our so extreme at all.”
“We believe in taxes that are low, regulations that are the right size, budgets that balance, respect for our military and our veterans and our and our first responders. We believe that the Bible and the Constitution were both divinely inspired,” Gaetz said as his opener that was all but completely drowned out by cheering and applause during an extended standing ovation.
“I wanted to be here tonight with my dear friend, Mark Green, and he is going through a transition. He is changing his pronoun to Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee,” Gaetz said with a well-timed pause. “Mark Green will be the only Freedom Caucus Chairman of a committee in the House of Representatives”
Gaetz recognized Green several times throughout his 20-minute speech, which was an appealing blend of politics and humor.
Gaetz shared a part of his history with Mar-a-Lago, growing up not far from the estate of the Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, and where he visited as a state representative and as counsel to President Trump.
“I was here the night that President Trump ordered the strike on [Qasem] Soleimani,” Gaetz relayed, “a strike that reset the power structure in the middle east and was constitutional and justified and righteous.”
“And I was also here by the pool when I met the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,“ Gaetz shared about his wife, Ginger at a birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle. “Not too long hereafter, just in the dining room behind us, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me in this special place.”
“That is why it is so deeply offensive to me that we have seen a weaponized government raid this place over politics and not any sense of justice. And my friends, the Republican majority of the House of Representatives is not worth its salt if we don’t stand against a government that has been weaponized,” Gaetz declared as he was once again cut off by applause and cheers.
“As I reflect on the great wisdom in our constitution and the courage and the honor of those that installed it, I also look at our current government and the House of Representatives, and I’m deeply disappointed at the systemic corruption.
“Far too often, the decisions that are made are based on who can give the most money, who can operate in the currency and parlance of a swamp that is so deep, oftentimes the most corrupt interests they just turn it into their own personal mud bath.
“We were tired of having to vote on 4,000-page bills and spend $1.7 trillion only having a day or so to read it. We were tired of having to take a vote on the farm bill at the same time we were taking a vote on the war powers in Yemen in a single bill. We were tired of people offering amendments on the National Defense Authorization Act, something as important as funding our troops and our weapons and the technology for America to hold the high ground purely as amendments to a vile infrastructure bill.
“And, so we said, no more.
“We said that no matter who wants to run the House of Representatives, no matter which party it is, we are tired of this place driving up debt, selling out to the special interests and turning what is supposed to be a shining light, our nation’s capital, into a national symbol of shame and corruption and malfeasance over and over again.”
Gaetz went on to list some of the many rules changes the 20 holdouts in the speaker’s race wanted, “And we won on every single one of them!” Gaetz declared.
“I am so glad that you are handing out these constitutions to students, because you have figured out that the left has poisoned our education system with such vile wokeness that it’s hard to discuss in pleasant company. But, maybe beyond the 6 million students you give these pocket constitutions to, you might also consider the people that Joe Biden nominates for the federal bench,” Gaetz jested.
“The reason your mission is so important, the reason these constitutions add such value is because you’re planting those seeds in each and every person out there and those will germinate and we will know this great country by our fruit. I think I read that somewhere, a pretty good book. We know folks by their fruit,” Gaetz said.
Reflecting on George Washington’s days at Valley Forge and the victory against the Hessians who had no country, Gaetz contrasted, “My fellow patriots, we have a country, We know what the constitution means. We know the value of citizenship, and we’re going to protect our citizenship.”
“America is not just an idea. It is not just a piece of paper. It is not an experiment. America is our home. And we must protect our home, and I could not be more honored to stand with all of you and do it.”
Told that he should end on a high note, Gaetz tied his conclusion to the introduction of his wife Ginger, who sang an unexpectedly amazing rendition of “God Bless America.”
The full slate of speakers included local Republican elected officials, Brenda Fam, Esquire, Broward County School Board (District 6), Michael Barnett, Palm Beach County Commissioner (District 3) and Republican Party Chairman, and Florida State Representatives Webster Barnaby (District 29), Mike Giallombardo (District 79) and Rick Roth (District 94).
The 917 Society has a goal of distributing pocket constitutions to the 6 million 8th grade students in time for the 2024 school year. The organization uses volunteers to deliver constitutions to schools and accepted tax-deductible donations in support of its efforts.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter with The Star News Network, where she covers stories for The Tennessee Star.