FAU’s Student Government got started mainly because Dan Mica was complaining.
Mica was a new student at a new school everyone was calling “Boca U,” and he wasn’t happy. So he wrote a protest pamphlet called the FAU Banana Peel with friends and handed it out on campus.
“We would complain about things like food in the cafeteria, and student programs with no student input,” Mica recalled. “It got the administration’s attention and they appointed a committee to start a student government.”
Mica became the first student body president in 1966 — two years after FAU started accepting students.
Most of his term in SG was spent establishing policies and procedures, but he did accomplish a few cool things. One was wrestling with Student Affairs to allow more student input on campus events, which Mica politely said were “aimed at an older audience” until they intervened.
He also helped start a decades-long relationship with a fledgling little football team called the Miami Dolphins.
“I had the chance to meet with Joe Robbie, the owner,” Mica said. “We came up with the idea for FAU to adopt the Miami Dolphins. We supplied the cheerleaders, and had a student body block at every game” — with $1 tickets for students, plus bragging rights. Mica said that “for 10 or 20 years,” FAU was the only school in the country that had a pro team.
As a student, like most of us, he had no idea what he wanted to be, and admired those who seemed to know what they were doing already.
“I never really had my heart set on anything — I was a true bachelor of arts,” Mica said. “I had some sense that I wanted to be in public service or government, or possibly run a business.”
He majored in education after a counselor talked him into it, and earned his degree in ’66. He met his future wife at FAU, and they’ve been together ever since.
After graduating, he spent 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, led two successful Washington, D.C., advocacy groups, and just last month launched his own political consulting business to help companies muddle through the complicated legal issues and bureaucracy of lobbying for new government policy.
Mica also started an FAU scholarship fund 30 years ago, has returned to campus to speak multiple times, and has made other financial contributions over the years. He has also been president of the FAU Alumni Association, which tries to maintain a community spirit among grads so they’ll donate to the university.
Hitting the highlights
Mica expressed concern about boring me with his life story, and the truth is you probably don’t want to read a Mica biography, either. But here’s an overview of how his career evolved:
1968-78: While student body president, he met Congressman Paul Rogers at an event on campus. After graduating, he went to work for Rogers, doing pretty much everything — “giving tours to visitors, opening mail, drafting responses to it, keeping the scrapbook, doing press assistant work,” Mica recalled. Rogers saw that Mica was reliable and dedicated, and eventually made him chief of staff.
1979-89: Rogers decided to retire, and talked Mica into running for his seat in the House of Representatives — Mica had considered the idea, but never seriously until that point. “I didn’t think it was in reach for me, I was from a very modest family,” he said. But he won — and won re-election four times.
He then ran for U.S. Senate in a long-shot bid — he couldn’t match the fundraising efforts of his opponents — and lost. “I enjoyed it, but there’s no sting like the public sting of defeat,” Mica says. “In politics, your loss is front page news.”
1989-96: After his defeat, he was recruited as the vice president of the American Council of Life Insurance, a trade group that advocates for hundreds of insurance companies around the country. Mica described his position there this way: “The life insurance industry at the time did not have major federal oversight, so it was more a position of keeping Congress and regulators informed and it was great training [for his next job].”
1996-2010: A search firm for the Credit Union National Association, after three tries, talked Mica into becoming its president and CEO — a job where he ultimately ended up with an annual salary above $1 million. “Actually it was a good bit more than that, but let me just stop there,” Mica said. He was the first credit union executive to hit seven figures, according to the Credit Union Journal.
Mica cited two major accomplishments as CEO:
“Shortly after I arrived there, they had a life-or-death struggle in the Congress and lost a Supreme Court case. Had it been allowed to stand, it would’ve required 20 million people to leave their credit unions. That would’ve been the end of the credit union. Helping preserve the system was a very tough fight and quite an honor to be involved in and win.”
“I raised the level of exposure in Washington. The credit union system has been around for 75 years now and we had never been recognized as a force by any polls, data or research, but after five years [of Mica’s leadership] we always ended up in the top 10 trade associations of Washington, and went from 70 million members to 90 million members.”
2011: Mica stepped down from his job “under my own terms,” he said. In January he launched his own consulting company, Daniel A. Mica, LLC. “I just literally launched this in the last month. I have a couple people working for me doing research, and I’m visiting folks and trying to make decisions. I’m going to take the first six months very carefully and make sure I do the right thing for the clients and for me.” He said he may also serve on some advisory boards and help with long-term planning, but hasn’t made any decisions yet.
Wisdom from an old-school Owl
Mica says the lessons he learned in SG stuck with him throughout life.
“Part of it is being on campus: There were so many different factions, so many different views,” Mica said. “That helped me learn to bring groups together, find out not what separates folks but what they have in common.”
Mica claimed it was a trademark of his, which opened a lot of doors. In Congress, he was known as a moderate Democrat and a consensus-builder. He was recruited to help run American Council of Life Insurers by Richard Schweiker — a Republican who ran on Ronald Reagan’s first presidential ticket, and trusted Mica as someone he could work with.
“To this day, that [consensus-building] served me well, especially as a CEO,” said Mica, who had other advice:
“Do the best you can do. At everything. Paul Rogers used to say, ‘Whatever you’re doing, do the very best at. Even if you’re taking out the trash, do it with vigor.’ Walk with purpose. Don’t just glide along. People you work for can easily tell if you’re putting in a focused, real effort or just trying to get by.”
“Take advantage of every opportunity and get exposed to as many different professions and occupations as you can because you never know what’s going to grab you and lead you into a career.”
“Spend as much time with your family as you do climbing the ladder. After all the lights go out and the cameras go off, you’re still there long-term with your family and that’s what’s important. People say that in college, and you roll your eyes, but you come to realize that’s the most important thing.”
In the halls of Congress
As you might guess, Mica’s time in Congress allowed him to meet pretty important people. He was friends with both presidents he served with — Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
“I was very fortunate to be president of my freshman class in Congress, and that again gave me a special opportunity to sit in on leadership meetings. I went to the White House on occasion and went with them and got to know Jimmy Carter and his wife. We watched some movies at the White House theater.” Mica unfortunately couldn’t remember any of the movies they watched — perhaps The Empire Strikes Back or Escape from New York?
Mica said he also hung out with Reagan regularly, despite their different political views. “He was in regular contact with me and would call me at home and call me over for a sandwich and we’d walk around the Rose Garden. I thought he was a great guy.”
As a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Mica also got to meet some world leaders, including Hosni Mubarak, the newly resigned president of Egypt, and Anwar El Sadat, his predecessor.
Also on Mica’s committees were many politicians still in office today.
“[Sen.] Harry Reid served on my committee and I was his chairman, [Sen.] John McCain served on my committee and I was chairman,” Mica said. Other well-known politicians he worked with: Sen. Richard Shelby, Sen. Olympia Snowe, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Barney Frank.
While in Congress, Mica worked to get what eventually became the West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which he considered a major accomplishment.
“I initiated the study and construction of the PBC veterans’ hospital in north Palm Beach County, one of the biggest hospitals in the U.S.,” said Mica. He tried to get it on the FAU campus — and maybe we would’ve had a medical school 30 years ago if FAU President Helen Popovich had been interested.
“We were looking for a site and I mentioned that FAU had a great deal of land,” Mica recalled. “But the current president didn’t want it. I say this respectfully, but I don’t think she had the vision for it.”
Mica said that, in hindsight, he regrets not going over her head to the Board of Regents in Tallahassee. “It would’ve been an amazing addition.”
Mica was also involved in establishing requirements for foreign embassies, and making sure they were safe havens for U.S. citizens and diplomats.
“I oversaw the investigation and bugging of a Moscow embassy,” Mica recalled. In 1987, on a visit to Russia with now-Sen. Olympia Snowe, he had to communicate inside the embassy with an erasable writing pad — a children’s toy, like an Etch A Sketch. Because the building was wiretapped, it was the only way to prevent Russian spies from hearing everything.
Mica says he was one of a few warning about the increasing possibility of terrorism back then, when many people didn’t take it seriously. “It wasn’t popular. Newspaper editorials said all the ‘terrorism talk’ was grandstanding,” Mica says. “But it has come to pass.”
Mica said congressmen work a lot harder than they’re given credit for. “It’s a 24/7/365 job. I know there’s a lot of criticism and jokes, but most of them work their hearts out all day,” Mica said. “One or two percent make trouble and make headlines.”
“The minute you get there you’re a ‘politician,’ but they’re just normal people like you and I,” he added.
Mica’s Quotes and Anecdotes
My interview with Mica covered a wide range of topics, and he gave some interesting opinions and funny stories worth sharing.
On lobbying: “It’s a necessary and important part of American democracy. Everyone has the right to petition the government. I’m sure FAU has a lobbyist — school teachers, plumbers, everyone does. It’s a very honorable profession that operates very quietly. Their job is to present and educate and persuade for who they represent, like a lawyer in the courtroom. And if they misuse that, they’re never welcome again in the office.”
On credit unions: “They’re not-for-profit, the good guys in the industry. They weathered this economic storm — unlike banks and other institutions — without any federal bailouts, and were one of the only institutions that didn’t need help during the Great Depression. They’re not out to gouge anybody, and really help the people. What we need is an FAU credit union.” (Though Mica mentioned that BankAtlantic CEO Alan Levan is “a good guy.”)
On being confused with his brother, Congressman John Mica: “We look alike and we’re less than a year apart, so people have always confused us. The first time I was elected in office, the Miami Herald ran a big color picture that said “Dan Mica,” but it was a picture of my brother. Everybody has confused us, from Capitol police, congressmen, people at church. The last time I saw President George Bush [Sr.] at the White House, he came over with a puzzled look on his face and said, ‘Are you you, or are you the other one?'”
On FAU: “There’s a very special place in my heart for FAU. I met my wife there in the library, and many of my best friends. … And [at the Credit Union National Association] we didn’t give bonuses to our staff last year, and I turned one down — I didn’t think I should get one if the staff didn’t get them — and they asked if there was anything else they could do. So I asked them to make a small donation to FAU in my name, and I think they did give $50,000.”
On the first-ever SG election: “I think there was a whole list of folks that ran – I remember Barry Wax [who became The Atlantic Sun’s first editor-in-chief] and Larry Lurie [who became Mica’s assistant and adviser], but all of them became friends and they served on different committees. I included them in the first committees to the extent I could. . It was a good campaign and it was fun — we made ‘I’m for Mica’ buttons with a rubber stamp and contact paper, and my opponents would wear them upside down on their behinds.”
On the most interesting person he ever met (other than his wife): “I’ve met most of the world leaders over a decade and it was fascinating and educational. Probably the one I just chuckle at, because it was such a fun experience: My wife and I were in the royal entourage when Lady Diana and Prince Charles were in Palm Beach County, and there was some dancing in the evening. My wife and I were dancing next to the royal couple, and I said ‘when the music stops I’ll ask her to dance.’ I did, and we talked about Jimmy Buffet and it was quite fun. I was later told I probably shouldn’t have done that.”
On the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia: “I would say it’s the first kind of Internet revolution in this new century and it shows you the power of information. Some people say information and the press are as powerful as any other weapon. After I left the Congress, I was appointed by George Bush [Sr.] to Radio Free Europe’s board, and in my travels through the Soviet Bloc countries I heard story after story about how that gave them help and hope and how it spurred Poland and other countries with factual information and the idea to exchange ideas. The march is on towards the free flow of information, and it’s going to be harder and harder for rulers who keep people in the dark to maintain control.”