Gin­grich, DeVos in Den­ver this week as con­ser­va­tives gather

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Ea­son

Thou­sands of conservative law­mak­ers, thought lead­ers and lob­by­ists con­verge on down­town Den­ver this week for a pair of high­pow­ered po­lit­i­cal con­fer­ences at the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

The larger of the two is the Cen­ten­nial In­sti­tute’s Western Conservative Sum­mit, an an­nual gath­er­ing of conservative Chris­tians from across the re­gion.

The other is the an­nual meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, or ALEC, a free-mar­ket pub­lic pol­icy group that has become in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial in set­ting pol­icy agen­das in state­houses across the coun­try.

The two events fea­ture a star-stud­ded cast of Colorado Repub­li­cans and na­tional po­lit­i­cal fig­ures, in­clud­ing for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy DeVos, In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke and U.S. Sen. Cory Gard­ner.

The Western Conservative Sum­mit will also fea­ture re­marks from a num­ber of Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­fuls — along with a straw poll to gauge conservative sup­port at this early stage of the race.

The con­fer­ences will be among the first ma­jor conservative po­lit­i­cal gath­er­ings in Colorado since Pres­i­dent Donald Trump took of­fice.

“We wanted a num­ber of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to come out,” said Jeff Hunt, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ten­nial In­sti­tute. “We thought this would be a great time to spike the foot­ball and cel­e­brate all the things that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing.”

In­stead, he said, “I think you’re go­ing to hear that there’s a lot of rest­less­ness” from grass­roots con­ser­va­tives — par­tic­u­larly af­ter the Repub­li­can-led Se­nate this week failed to se­cure the votes needed to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act, the health care law also known as Oba­macare.

The gath­er­ings will be met with protests and coun­ter­pro­gram­ming from the op­po­site side of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

ALEC, in par­tic­u­lar, has long been un­der fire from crit­ics who say the group’s prac­tice of push­ing model leg­is­la­tion to law­mak­ers has given cor­po­rate lob­by­ists a trou­bling level of in­flu­ence in state­houses across the coun­try.

A coali­tion of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and union sup­port­ers plan to march to the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter from the state Capi­tol on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, when the ALEC meet­ing is sched­uled to be­gin.

And the Colorado chap­ter of Com­mon Cause, a left-lean­ing gov­ern­ment watch­dog group, hosted a “teach-in” over the week­end to high­light ALEC’s in­flu­ence in Colorado and around the coun­try.

“ALEC’s se­cre­tive cor­po­rate lob­by­ing flies in the face of how democ­racy is sup­posed to work,” Elena Nunez, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Colorado Com­mon Cause, said in a state­ment. “Vot­ers may not know who ALEC is, but they have been very in­flu­en­tial in Colorado.”

In a re­port re­leased ahead of the an­nual meet­ing, Com­mon Cause iden­ti­fied 22 Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in Colorado with ties to the group, in­clud­ing Se­nate Pres­i­dent Kevin Gran­tham, who is the group’s state chair.

The ALEC meet­ing runs from Wed­nes­day to Fri­day, while the Western Conservative Sum­mit starts Fri­day and con­cludes Sun­day af­ter­noon. Tick­ets are re­quired and can be pur­chased on­line at the group’s web­sites.

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