Gingrich, DeVos in Denver this week as conservatives gather
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.