The question Milissa Holland heard endlessly after she narrowly lost a bid for the Florida House of Representatives in November was: what next? For almost a decade—and the last six years as a county commissioner—Holland had been among the county’s most vibrant and influential policy makers. She’d been its most persuasive voice in Tallahassee, where she was able to sway lawmakers and the Florida Cabinet Flagler’s way. She was its best hope in half a century to regain direct representation in the state capital. And she had charisma and energy to spare.
But there are no direct trajectories in politics.
“The day after the election happened, I can’t tell you how many people called me throughout the state of Florida,” Holland says. “These are people I worked with throughout the years in a variety of different capacities. Everyone was really watching, and I think there were a lot of people who were very hopeful, but they didn’t want me to stop. Even after the results, their concern then shifted to—all right, we can’t lose who you are and what you’ve become and your voice, and I think that has given me the ability to really stay very focused and understanding the significance of this moment and this opportunity. I don’t want to waste it. I really want it to mean something.”
And so at 10 a.m. on Friday, January 11, immediately following “Free For All Friday” with David Ayres, Holland will launch “Milissa Holland Live,” a one-hour weekly talk show on WNZF Radio (1550 AM and 106.3 FM).
Holland, we are just as proud to announce, will also be a weekly columnist at FlaglerLive. Her column will post two days before the show, on Wednesday evenings, and serve as a conversation-starter for the live radio show two days later.
Milissa Holland Live will be Flagler County’s version of Nightline: one hour, one topic, several guests, call-ins, Tweet-ins, and hard-hitting conversation about the county’s and the state’s most important issues of the day: charter schools, sales and property taxes, the next gubernatorial race, Florida’s obsession with jails, Flagler’s unresolved tensions over race, and larger conversations about national issues with local resonance. The ongoing debate over gun control in the wake of the Newtown school massacre comes to mind.
The election, as it turned out for Holland, was very much the turning point elections tend to be. Only this turn was as unexpected as it was natural.
“I had the opportunity to do Feed Flagler right after the election, and I think that gave me a great moment to really reflect why I continue to do what I do,” Holland said, sitting across a conference table from Ayres, WNZF’s general manager. “It continues to inspire me. This community really is quite inspirational, and it’s kept me kind of motivated to do more and more, as much as possible for them.”
The notion of a radio show was born where many of Flagler’s political subplots are crafted: at Woody’s restaurant, where Ayres and Holland were having lunch soon after the election. The two are an old couple in many ways: she’s been on Ayres’s show innumerable times, they’ve worked on a variety of projects together, they click on and off the air, usually with humor. Ayres broke the news of Holland’s impending marriage to Chief Deputy David O’Brien live on the air one Friday morning, as a gaping O’Brien sat in the studio, unprepared for the public revelation (Holland was in Tallahassee and got the news later by phone).
Ayers reflected what many people in Flagler thought: he couldn’t quite picture a local landscape without Holland.
“It was just kind of, girl talk, you know,” Ayers said of his lunch with Holland after November 6, “like how do you feel about this election after all these local beeeeps”—Ayers made the universal high-pitched sound of broadcast bleeping—“let us all down by not voting for her. We talked about all that, ‘have you lost the fire to help this community, are you going to move on and say see ya, I’ve given all I can.’”
Not at all. Holland had no intention of disappearing.
So he sprang it on her: why not do a talk show? “Because we were sitting there having lunch, and she kind of was like doing a talk show there,” Ayers said. “This is exactly what a good talk show would be, just how we’re talking openly about things.” Holland seized on the idea.
Ayers is a seat-of-your-pants sort of guy. No need for demo tapes, no need for dry runs or rehearsed shows. He’s throwing Holland in the studio raw and live on Jan. 11, with a few promos the most she’d have done before taking to the air. She’s fine with it: every elected politician is an improv artist at some level, and Holland was among the best of them.
“This isn’t just somebody doing a show about something and it happens to be her,” Ayers says. “It is her. She is the essence of everything about this program, so she has total freedom to adjust, to take calls, not take calls, cut people off. She’s a natural communicator. People listening on the radio feel like she’s talking to them. There’s no talking down. She comes across very one-on-one with everybody all the time. That’s what makes a great host.”
Barbara Revels, the county commissioner and a long-time ally of Holland’s who was among those who urged her most to run for state office, welcomed the new turn.
“I think that that’s a wonderful new thing for her to explore because she certainly has the knowledge base of our community to know where to reach for discovery on some of the important issues that affect our community. That ought to give your readers and the radio show listeners a great new venue from a different perspective,” Revels said. “Having been an elected official and having run for a state position—and she was more qualified to do that—I think she’s going to be able to ask the tough, hard questions, coming from that side, that other journalists might not know about, or have the depth of knowledge of the subject matter to know where to dig or pry to try to keep things in the open or transparent. I think it’s a great move for her to keep her name in the public’s eye in case—my hope would be—she tries to seek public office again. She’s got a talent that I would like to see not wasted.”
Don’t confuse Milissa Holland Live with Free For All Friday. “Totally different,” Ayers says. “I have 20 guests on in an hour, and 20 subjects. Mine is rapid-fire, the buzz around town, what’s on, this and that and everything, because I used to do the show every day, Monday through Friday. Now I basically do it once a week and I basically do a week’s worth of shows in one day.”
Milissa Holland Live will be more deliberate and focused, and driven by political, social and cultural subject matters rather than by goings on about town. Holland will also have complete control over subject matters, guests and the tone of the show, though she promises that it will not be the confrontational-style radio show now in vogue. The conversation is intended to be provocative, but the host will not play gotcha or let her sometimes very strong convictions get too much in the way.
“What I bring to the table is the knowledge of the issues and the understanding in depth of the issues,” Holland says. “Will I have opinions? Sure, I’ll have opinions. Will I be offering them and not allowing the flow of conversation to happen naturally? No, because the intent of this show is to allow the guests I have on to really have a voice and tie to the items of discussion. I don’t want to withhold any of that. I will challenge my guests, I will challenge the listeners. I want to be challenged.”
“I just don’t want to have a show to have a show,” Holland adds. “I want the show to have some real value. By the end of it everyone walks away perhaps thinking something different, perhaps wanting to continue with the conversation. Maybe it opens up different lines of communication, and I think those are important items for us to be focusing on right now. There’s such a division, and lack of connectivity between local, state, our residents: as I was campaigning, only so much information had the ability to get out to the public.” The radio show and the column are an attempt to counter that trend more constructively.
Holland’s introductory column, unconnected to a subsequent show, will appear on FlaglerLive on Jan. 2, in preparation for the column that’ll launch her show the following week. She won’t disclose who her first guests will be. “It’s going to be big,” she says, or “raise eyebrows,” in Ayers’s words. Meanwhile, Holland’s daughter built her new Facebook and Twitter pages, and Holland herself has been lining up her New Year’s subject matters and guests. It’s an altogether familiar role. She’s still chairing her own panels, but to a vastly larger, and likely more irascible, audience.