Last year as I was becoming more politically aware and active, I watched the Twitter feed for the 2014 Western Conservative Summit as it took place in July. At that time I realized that if I were to take my activism to the next level, I had to attend the Summit next year and thereafter.
True to my resolve, I did purchase a pass to this year’s Summit, which started Friday the 26th of June and ran through noon on Sunday the 28th.
Presented by the Centennial Institute (CI) of Colorado Christian University (CCU) the experience was very worthwhile. I got to hear and meet some leading conservative thinkers, watched two debates and attended some worthwhile breakout sessions. I was able to see and hear several Republican presidential candidates tell us in their own words why they think they should be president, and came away with a renewed sense of my mission.
The Summit opened at noon on Friday. Arriving around 12:30 I got my registration packet and walked around the exhibit area and spoke with several exhibitors. I finally got to meet Jonathan Lockwood in person – he’s the Executive Director of an organization called “Advancing Colorado”. I renewed my acquaintance with Tony Sanchez – former state senate candidate and now the Executive Director of an organization called Freedom For Education. Tony’s group is gearing up to fight the recall effort directed at the conservative members of the Jefferson County Colorado School Board.
I had my picture taken with a bald eagle at a booth that was dedicated to educating people about how many birds and bats are killed each year by wind turbines to produce negligible amounts of uneconomical energy. It’s sadly ironic that the EPA will go to extreme lengths to protect mice and prairie dogs, but doesn’t seem to care about these majestic birds.
The first breakout session I attended was titled Protecting the Poor from Global Warming Madness by Dr. Calvin Beisner of Cornwall Alliance. This presentation covered how the extreme poor, mostly in Africa, have to spend so much time and effort in obtaining wood and animal dung to fuel the open fires that they use for heating and cooking. These fires are often indoors and are very unhealthy, leading to millions of premature deaths from indoor air pollution. He also presented data slides showing that as carbon dioxide emissions increase, so does income and life expectancy. As carbon dioxide emissions increase, infant mortality decreases.
His talk was far-ranging and covered more topics related to climate change. I will be writing about this session in more detail in a future blog post in addition to presenting his slides.
The second breakout session I attended was titled Social Media Secrets for Winning Online presented by Ms. Aubrey Blankenship of American Majority (AM). Ms. Blankenship is the Communications Director for this organization which is dedicated to helping to “…put into place the nation’s new, conservative grassroots structure.”
Even though I consider myself to be “social media savvy” I also recognize there’s always more to learn, and was not disappointed by this session. I learned several things that I hope will take my social media activism to the next level including tools, ideas and apps.
I missed the Friday evening session where the father of candidate Ted Cruz apparently gave a powerful speech. Since Cruz finished a distant fourth in the straw poll, I wonder if he would have received a better showing had he appeared in person.
First thing Saturday morning we got a dose of solid religious social conservatism from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. I listened with interest, but did not take notes. Even after listening to the social conservatives speaking all weekend, I remain more convinced than ever that the social issues the GOP is fighting over are the wrong battles, and that their continued resistance to same-sex marriage and abortion rights simply empowers the Left and makes it more difficult to win elections.
Several speakers lamented the recent Supreme Court rulings regarding Obamacare and gay marriage which only reinforces my view that all government officials – elected or appointed – should be subject to term limits.
After Mr. Perkins completed his talk, there was a panel discussion regarding the decline of the mainstream media and a debate between two African-American men – a conservative and a liberal – about how “Liberalism Hurts the Poor”.
This debate, moderated by talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, was between conservative Kevin Jackson and liberal Richard Fowler (who was 10 minutes late, which earned him some good-natured ribbing). While both men had some good points, I was struck by two things. One, the moderator did not maintain order and let the two debaters talk over each other. I HATE that, and it’s one reason I quit watching Fox News. The second one was that both men were African-American, successful and passionate about what they were talking about. They weren’t the first black conservatives I listened to over the weekend, either.
The next speaker was presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. His speech was rousing, well-spoken, delivered with humor and contained many familiar themes. He appeared to be completely at ease with his discussion and the questions asked of him by journalist Byron York. While he’s not my top pick for the GOP candidate for president, I certainly think he wouldn’t make a bad president.
Following Governor Huckabee was former Hewlett Packard CEO and candidate Carly Fiorina. I felt like her talk started a bit slow, but once she hit her stride she was formidable. I was impressed by how she described working her way up to the top of a major public company after starting as a person doing “typing and filing” in a small real estate office. I was amused by her anecdote about how someone asked her if her hormones would govern her conduct in the Oval Office and she replied that we have seen plenty of male presidents whose judgment was clouded by hormones in the Oval Office. The audience certainly appreciated that remark.
Ms. Fiorina ended up coming in second in the straw poll, and I resolved to look into her record, views and candidacy more closely. Despite Dick Morris’ exhortation to “not pick a novice” I think Carly would have a fighting chance against the corrupt Hillary Clinton – the gender card would be off the table – and would love to see a matchup against another “old white guy” in Bernie Sanders.
Following an early afternoon discussion, it was time to listen to former Texas governor and candidate Rick Perry talk about how he would lead. Perry cited his strong record as governor and mentioned all of the good things that happened in the Texas economy during his tenure. I liked his approach to federalism and his quotation of Louis Brandeis that the states are the laboratories of democracy. He even said that Colorado had the right to “get it wrong” about legal marijuana. One suggestion, Governor: Leave legal marijuana out of it. It’s another one of those social issues that will spike your candidacy in Colorado.
The next speaker was Arthur Brooks, who gave an excellent presentation titled Opening the Conservative Heart. Based on his forthcoming book – of which the first chapter was available free – he laid out his vision for conservatism as a movement for social and economic justice. I was mesmerized by his talk and had a chance to chat with him afterwards. His book is going on my reading list for sure after its publication.
For the afternoon breakout session, I chose a session titled Lessons from the Left given by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Anita MonCrief. Ms. MonCrief is a former progressive who worked for ACORN and was instrumental in divulging their illegal activities. I didn’t ask her if she knew Barack Obama personally, though I wouldn’t be surprised, since Obama was the lawyer for ACORN early in his career.
I found her story of growing up as an African-American progressive activist fascinating, and was moved by her description of why she left the Left and embraced conservatism – because she didn’t want to work for a world that she didn’t want her daughter to grow up in. Her presentation included a background in how the Left works, how the remnants of ACORN fanned the flames of racial division in Ferguson and Baltimore, and tips for successful organizing and activism. I was glad to make her acquaintance and learn more about how AFP can help grassroots activists to organize and be more effective.
After returning from my dinner break I was walking around the exhibition floor when I witnessed a group of young people begin dancing – it was a flash mob led by the Young Conservatives Leadership Conference. It was COOL! A member of the YCLC tipped me on where to watch and I saw Dr. Ben Carson being led in by the youth. He was the first speaker of the evening and the fourth African-American conservative speaker I heard at this conference.
Dr. Carson gave an inspiring speech and had a clearly polished message. I was impressed by his sincerity and his vision for America. He would be a formidable candidate and he did win the straw poll at the Summit, however, I want to learn more about him his record and his views before I support him as a candidate.
After listening to a highly entertaining talk by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) I left to go home, so I missed the talk given by Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. I later heard it was somewhat formulaic and that he faced down a heckler.
I enjoyed the interfaith service featuring the singing of the awesome Legacy Quartet and a talk by former NFL star Spencer Tillman (another black conservative) who looks much younger than his years and was gracious enough to sign my program for me.
The next part of the session was one I had been looking forward to: a debate between bestselling author Katie Pavlich and progressive talk show host Mark Levine titled Gun Control Endangers Us All. This debate, moderated by Centennial Institute president John Andrews and for which both participants were on time, was much more enjoyable than Saturday’s debate because Mr. Andrews kept the participants within defined time limits, didn’t allow them to talk over each other and disallowed catcalls from the crowd.
I was struck by two things in this debate: the courtesy and warm welcome extended to Mr. Levine and the poise and preparation shown by Ms. Pavlich. I thought her arguments were well-reasoned, factually supported and evenly delivered. To his credit, Mr. Levine passionately argued his points, but used several talking points I already knew to be inaccurate, incomplete or disingenuous.
After this debate I went to the book signing tables and was pleased to chat briefly with Ms. Pavlich and get a signed copy of her book Assault and Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women, which I reviewed last year.
The final talk I attended was by Dick Morris, former Clinton consigliere and now a conservative political analyst. He started his talk by stating that if Hillary wins, he “would be on the first train to Canada”. He also pointed out that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt politician he knows, and he SHOULD know since he was their henchman for many years.
Mr. Morris gave a good talk and I hope it’s going to be available on DVD or the CCU website because while I took notes, there was a lot there that I would like to re-consider and think about. For example, his remark about the GOP “getting the Latino vote” was apt: “You’ll get it when you quit calling it that”. His analysis of what it will take to win the presidency was cogent and well-reasoned. He cautioned against picking a novice to go up against Hillary, stating that she is a master of campaigning and the “charge and countercharge” aspect. I took that as an implicit caution against nominating a Ben Carson or a Carly Fiorina – both people whose first or second elective office being sought is the highest in the land.
Wrap-Up and Takeaways
The summit wrapped up with a highlight video and I was pleased to see that my segment (recorded Friday afternoon) had been included and that I was able to speak coherently about why I had attended without much prior thought or warning. Following this Mr. Andrews delivered some closing remarks.
As I left the Colorado Convention Center, I reflected that I was glad I had attended the Summit and achieved my goals of networking, learning more about the conservative movement and about some of the Republican candidates for president.
I have also given thought to attending the Netroots Nation 2015 conference later this month in Phoenix. This conference is a gathering of progressives, and I would love to see if they are as courteous to opponents as the Summit attendees were, if they would use or eschew air conditioning, and whether or not gender neutral or unisex bathrooms would be available. I want to see firsthand how these people act to each other and to outsiders, and if the explicit and obvious love of America that I saw at the WCS would be present. If I do attend I’ll certainly write a blog post about it.
In the meantime, my compliments to John Andrews and his staff; the Centennial Institute and the Colorado Christian University for putting on such a fun, valuable and rewarding Summit. I am already looking forward to next year.
By Richard D. Turnquist
July 1, 2015