DENVER–Colorado Republicans have plenty to gripe about after the last election and legislative session, but they focused on the positive Friday at the annual Western Conservative Summit.
The three-day conservative gathering, sponsored by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, kicked off with keynote speeches by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and rising GOP star Mia Love of Utah.
Walker said he had it even worse than today’s Colorado Republicans before the November 2010 election. Prior to that, Wisconsin Democrats held the governor’s seat, the state legislature, both Senate seats and a majority of the House delegation.
“Everything flipped after the November ’10 election,” said Walker. “So whether you’re from Colorado or anywhere else in the West where you maybe have a Democrat temporarily in office today, I tell you, if Wisconsin, the home of the progressive movement . . . can elect and elect again someone like me, there’s no doubt that if you are focused on an optimistic, relevant and courageous message, you can not only win, but more important, you can govern.”
Walker, who’s known for his battles with labor unions over public-school education reform, also gave a shout-out to the Douglas County School Board.
“As I understand, just down the way in Douglas County, they’ve got a pretty important school board race coming up in just a few months,” said Walker.
He said Republicans need to challenge the Democrats’ hold on the education issue, adding that, “We shouldn’t play second fiddle to anyone.”
“I get sick and tired of this narrative that somehow says that we [don't care about] education,” said Walker. “We’re the ones who care about education The difference is, we care about the education of our kids in the classroom– the other side cares about the education bureaucracy, and how much they get paid, and how much money they put in.”
The summit, now in its fourth year, packed a Denver Hyatt Regency ballroom Friday with more than 1,500 attendees. About 2,000 people are expected to attend over the weekend, breaking last year’s record. The event has grown every year and draws nationally recognized conservative elected officials and commentators.
Saturday’s speakers include Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and columnist Jonah Goldberg. Former Rep. Allen West (R-Florida) is delivering the final address on Sunday.
There was at least one joke at the expense of Gov. John Hickenlooper. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) said the Democratic governor was “invited but couldn’t decide whether he could attend.”
“However, he did say that he would let the next governor decide,” said Gardner.
If there was a theme at Friday’s kick-off, it was the contrast between the conservative ideal of individual independence and the liberal push for government dependence.
“It’s not a Republican message, it’s an American ideal,” said Walker. “As a kid, I don’t ever remember anyone in my class saying, ‘Scott, when I grow up, I want to be dependent on the government.’”
Love lost her race for Congress in 2012 by less than 1,000 votes to incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), but she recently announced that she’s running again in 2014. She serves as the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah.
She said liberals are promoting a message of “the government will save you” at their forums.
“Let me tell you what their message is. Their message is the American dream is dead,” said Love. “Unfortunately, too many people are listening to that message.”
Republicans have a different message. “We are not interested in making your life easier in the short term. We’re interested in making your life better,” Love said.