Western Conservative Summit offers sizzle

The Colorado Statesman

If the sizzle of red meat was in the downtown Denver air last weekend, it was by design.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin invokes FDR’s “Forgotten Man” during her address to the Western Conservative Summit on July 19. Palin placed second in a 2016 presidential straw poll of summit delegates held over the weekend.

The fifth annual Western Conservative Summit, sponsored by Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, filled three locations with dozens of marquee speakers and thousands of grassroots supporters for a three-day celebration dubbed “America at its Best.”

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong and his wife, Ellen, depart the ballroom after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin spoke on July 20 at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. Armstrong heads Colorado Christian University, whose Centennial Institute sponsored the three-day gathering.

The gathering has become a must-visit summer event for potential Republican presidential prospects — Texas Gov. Rick Perry made a splashy appearance at the 2011 conference just days before officially jumping into the 2012 race — and this year was no exception.

State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and her husband, Ron, pause for a moment in front of a gigantic poster for women’s clothing line CAbi, which was also meeting at the hotel and nearby convention center, during the hectic July 20 schedule at the Western Conservative Summit at the Hyatt Regency in Denver.

Speakers included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Dr. Ben Carson, a darling of the conservative movement and the subject of a “Run, Ben, Run!” draft movement that has raised millions of dollars with the aim of urging the retired neurosurgeon to run for president. Other headline speakers included former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida, former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and his predecessor in the seat, Jim DeMint, who heads the Heritage Foundation.

Former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave discusses her optimism that pro-life legislation is poised to pass throughout the country during a July 19 workshop called “Hot Issues in Pro-Life and Religious Liberty,” part of the Western Conservative Summit.

Carson headlined the opening night’s speeches at the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theater — the summit spilled out of the downtown Hyatt Regency and also included a banquet and receptions at the nearby Grand Hyatt.

Republican congressional nominee Ken Buck and state Rep. Perry Buck, R-Greeley, greet Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway during a busy afternoon at the Western Conservative Summit on July 20 in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Denver.

“I don’t like the word compromise when it applies to principles,” Carson told the rapt crowd, though he also cautioned against conservatives turning on each other.

“All of us together, we have to look at the big picture,” he said. “We are trying to save the nation right now. So we cannot have this attitude that ‘if they don’t agree with me on this particular issue, I’m out of here.’” He urged movement conservatives to back candidates with whom they agree the vast majority of the time rather than holding out for purity and to oppose “RINOs.”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann exhorts the crowd at the Western Conservative Summit’s Gold Banquet to stick to principles on July 19 at the Grand Hyatt in Denver.

“We’re gonna have a Tea Party-RINO get-together and we’re gonna take back the country,” he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida poses for a snapshot with Hannah Fritz, a participant in the Young Conservatives Leadership Conference at the Western Conservative Summit.

If he runs, Carson can count his visit to the Western Conservative Summit as a milestone. With 22 percent of the vote, Carson won the 2016 presidential straw poll conducted throughout the weekend, coming in ahead of Cruz and Palin, who scored 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 finishers were Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, West and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012. Bachmann, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were also on the lengthy ballot.

Republican legislative candidate JoAnn Windholz, the Colorado Eagle Forum’s Jayne Schindler and Anita Stapleton greet delegates to the Western Conservative Summit on July 19 at the Hyatt Regency in Denver.

“This will be the fourth year in a row that we will make national news representing conservatives in the West,” said former state Senate President John Andrews, who directs the sponsoring think tank. He noted that former pizza executive Herman Cain won the Summit’s 2012 straw poll, presaging his period as a front-runner for the 2012 nomination.

Frank Atwood and Daniel Ong urge delegates at the Western Conservative Summit to consider the Approval Voting method of ranking choices. Atwood is the Libertarian Party’s nominee in Congressional District 1 and Ong is the Libertarian Party’s CU Regent candidate in Congressional District 2.

Andrews also set the beefy tone for the conference at the Friday night program of speakers, after the Republican Senate candidate and gubernatorial nominee spoke at the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theater.

Republican state Senate candidate Tony Sanchez, right, and his wife, Junco, stand with a patriot who goes by the name Jefferson Quincy Washington III, Esq., of the Liberty Day Institute, at the Western Conservative Summit.

“As we bring out Colorado heroes like Cory Gardner and Bob Beauprez, you probably noticed that something was missing, something was not said about how they are spending 2014,” Andrews smiled. “I can give you the reason why in two words: Lois Lerner,” he said, invoking the IRS official under fire for scrutinizing right-wing non-profit organizations seeking tax-exempt status. CCU, Andrews explained, has 501(c)3 status and thus “needs to stick to principles and ideas” rather than partisan politics. “Because we don’t have all the candidates represented, we can’t talk about anyone being a candidate,” he said.

Run, Ben, Run! urge supporters of Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, at a booth supporting the draft movement on July 19 at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver. Carson spoke at the gathering’s opening night rally and won the presidential straw poll conducted over the weekend.

After having the tax code researched by the “best tax lawyer in the country,” Andrews said he asked, “‘Are we allowed to talk about sirloin and tofu?’ He said, ‘Yes you are.’” So, in order to avoid running into problems with the IRS, Andrews proposed that Summit attendees “form a mental association between Republican and sirloin, and Democrat and tofu. Every time I’m with Bob Beauprez and Cory Gardner makes me want to eat more sirloin and less tofu.”

Gardner and Beauprez were among the Colorado candidates — all Republicans — who made introductions, also including lieutenant governor nominee Jill Repella and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who is running for Gardner’s congressional seat.

The Western Conservative Summit has grown by leaps and bounds since its relatively humble beginnings in a Lone Tree hotel in 2010, former U.S. senator and current president of Colorado Christian University Bill Armstrong noted. “We hoped to get 300, we got 700,” he said. “The next year we got 1,200, and the year after that 1,500.” Attendance rose to 2,000 at last year’s summit, he said before boasting that 3,300 delegates were attending at least part of this year’s bash. In addition, some 90 media outlets were credentialed to cover the events, including five from overseas.

Conservatives across the globe also got an unfiltered glimpse of the goings-on, organizers said. The summit’s Twitter hashtag, #WCS14, was a top-trending topic on the social media platform throughout the weekend — making the top four in the nation twice over the weekend, even besting hashtags generated at the liberal Netroots Nation, which also took place last weekend.

Rich Bratten of the Principles of Liberty Colorado organization on Sunday morning presented awards to the three Colorado legislators in each chamber, all Republicans, who scored best voting for the group’s values. Honored were state Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton, Perry Buck of Windsor and Steve Humphrey of Severance; and state Sens. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs and Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs.

A candidate who hopes to vie for the award next year — he’s challenging state Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood — is Republican Tony Sanchez, who was grinning a mile wide as he strolled about the exhibit hall on Friday afternoon. Comparing the summit to a “political Comic Con,” he said, “It’s good to be talking about liberty, about limited government. It’s good to get that boost for when we get out on the campaign trail, understand what this is all about.”

The Colorado Eagle Forum’s Jane Schindler said the conference was all about hope. “We’re very encouraged, and the talent that’s here is just inspiring,” she said on Saturday as Bachmann spoke at the Gold Banquet. “If we could use all of the speakers — my wish list would be Ted Cruz for president, Ben Carson for secretary of health and Allen West for secretary of state. We could really turn this country around with the talent that’s here. We don’t need to divide and conquer, it’s unity, work together.”

Colorado Democrats were less enthused.

“Not too long ago, Republicans were taken seriously for their policy ideas,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio in a statement. “However this weekend’s Conservative Summit is further proof that today’s GOP is no longer a big tent party that is interested in real solutions for all Americans, rather they’ve become a circus sideshow featuring carnival barkers like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz; two of the many headliners who talked about ways to shutdown the government, impeach the President, and called immigrants invaders.”


National radio host Hugh Hewitt interviews U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Republican attorney general nominee Cynthia Coffman on July 18 inside the KUVO booth at the Western Conservative Summit.
Former state Senate President John Andrews presents a caricature depicting her as Joan of Arc to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota following the Republican’s speech at the July 19 Gold Banquet, part of the Western Conservative Summit, at the Grand Hyatt in Denver.
Photos by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman


Ernest@coloradostatesman.com

See the July 25 2014 print edition for full photo coverage.