Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day Two
Civitas Institute - North Carolina
Conservative Leadership Conference

Day two of the conference starts with waiting on the patio for breakfast. Before the breakfast room opened, there was a large crowd clamoring for coffee! Outside the hotel we had our usual protest groups from the liberal camps. I am always amused at how democrats think that publicly protesting a peaceful event is a useful activity. You will rarely see protestors outside their events but it isn't because we don't disagree with them. Here and here are links to pictures of the ones who showed up this time!

While waiting for breakfast to start, Senator Fred Smith meets Angela McGlowan, (shown above) Fox News Analyst and author of "Bamboozled", who is moderating the morning event. Angela proclaimed that she was impressed with Senator Smith and pronounced him destined to be our next Governor when she introduced him.

Senator Fred Smith - Candidate for Governor, gave what was clearly the best speech of the day. It was completely in tune with what the people have come to expect of this principled man who is rapidly rising in the polls. Fred got the best ovation of the day as he ended his speech on a pledge to the people of North Carolina. (Check out my posting here to find out how his crowd enthusiasm translated into dominance in the poll Civitas conducted!) Fred's comments echoed the themes on his web site, called JOIN FRED - His lifetime track record of hard work and straight talk are respected by his friends and allies. He has always been a winner and that worries his opponents.

Thomas Stith and Angela McGlowan talked about final changes to the schedule including some speakers added at the last minute who were not on the program.

As noted, Angela McGlowan moderated the breakfast meeting and this daughter of a Methodist minister opened the session with a prayer.

Patrick Ballantine was second of the breakfast keynote speakers. There are many who want this young man to seek the Lt Governor post for North Carolina to continue burnishing his already impressive credentials.

Final keynote speaker for breakfast and top democrat in attendance at the conference, Heath Shuler, is a very religious man who says all the right things, but his great resume as a college football player brought honor to the State of Tennessee and almost all of his business interests are in Tennessee too. Somehow he persuaded a conservative district in North Carolina that his recent return to North Carolina to align himself with a political party controlled by socialists and appeasers would allow him to be an independent voice representing their district. However that victory had more to do with the tidal wave running against all Republicans last year than Shuler's credentials alone.

Heath Shuler was rated by ESPN the 17th greatest sports FLOP of the last 25 years. It is going to be interesting to see if the impossibility of honestly representing his conservative district while constrained by the liberal interests of the party he is a member of does not quickly make him a FLOP as a politician too.

As breakfast ended I spoke with a couple of young ladies from Onslow County about how they thought the Civitas conference was going. They were very positive. We discussed the future of their representative Walter Jones and the interest of many in the Republican Party in finding someone to take him on in the primary so that we can send him back to the democrat party where his heart seems to lie.

The morning sessions for the conference were too much about inside politics to maintain my interest, which are more concerned with issues that affect people such as education, immigration and the growing attacks on free enterprise even inside our party. I will be covering those forums in future columns about the specific issues of "The Conservative Message" and "The Future of Conservatism". I am skipping them here but I did want to share a couple of great lines that came out of these forums. "You can't please everyone, but you can certainly tick them all off." That was in support of the premise that our p
arty abandoned and negated all of the progress from the 1994 "Contract with America" by its recent actions.

Another was a great joke about the pastor who was approached by a man who said "That was a damn fine sermon you gave preacher." The pastor said "Excuse me but you don't really need to curse sir." "Yes sir, preacher, I was so impressed I put $100 in the collection plate." The pastor responded, "The hell you say!" This in response to our willingness to abandon pricipals for money.

The next interesting session was the lunch session.

Pearl Floyd, County Commissioner from Gaston County opened the lunch session with a prayer.

Thomas Stith was moderator (again) and introduced the next speaker.

That speaker was Mark Sanford, former Governor from South Carolina. Mark is a soft spoken man who talks with great common sense about where conservatives need to go next. His comments on the difference between losing and being defeated were extremely important for Republicans to remember at this time.

Michael Steele, former Lt Governor of the State of Maryland is an imposing man with a charismatic manner. He presented his thoughts on where the conservative movement needs to go, and articulated a great vision of how to counter the insults hurled by democrats at any "minority" who dares to embrace the Republican Party.

I also liked his story about the difference between two friends who were a conservative and a liberal. They were walking down the street and passed a homeless man. The Conservative stopped, gave the man $20 and his business card and told him to call him about a job. Not to be outdone the liberal stopped when they passed another homeless man, took $50 from the conservative, gave it to the homeless man and then gave him directions to the closest welfare agency.

His thoughts were a great lead in to the next important forum which followed lunch, "Expanding the Conservative Base With Minority Voters".

The turnout for the "Minority Voter Forum" ultimately filled the room and overflowed into the hall.

The session was moderated by Mister Chairman, Joseph Avery, businessman from Smithfield in Johnston County and former Chairman of the Johnston County Republican Party. Joe has recently been elected Chairman of the Second North Carolina District for the Republican Party as he continues to move up in the Republican Party leadership ranks. Members of the Panel included Pearl Floyd, County Commissioner from Gaston County and long time Republican leader, Angela McGlowan, Fox News Analyst and author of "Bamboozled" and Dan Ramirez, County Commissioner from Mecklenburg County.

Each of the panel members was allowed to share some of their thoughts. Dan Ramirez was quite honest that many Republicans had existing opinions based on past experience that convinced them there was little chance of success in reaching out to minorities, so they were reticent to try.

Pearl Floyd spoke of the need for Republicans to get past that reticence too. She said that only aggressive action to reach out would lead to success, but she encouraged the party members to not be shy. She feels that the majority of those in the black and latino communities would welcome someone who did not quit at the first sign of resistance.

The most aggressive promoter for reaching out was Angela McGlowan, author of the book "Bamboozled". Her book is a blue print of how to explain our conservative programs and beliefs to the black and hispanic communities, and also explains why the largest part of those communities belong in the "conservative" party based on shared values.

Joseph Avery spoke last and took a few minutes to introduce some of the long term Republicans who were in the audience, including Vernon Robinson and the man in the picture below.

Richard Bishop is a Republican who is looked to as the mentor for many of the black Republicans of today. He spoke of his own views and why he has always been a Republican, and how he explains that in the black community.

Lamont Roberts is typical of a number of audience members who spoke up and insisted the Republican Party needs to overcome its failure to communicate our conservative message in the black community.

The next to last session of the day was about the 2008 Presidential Campaign. In many ways this was another of the "inside politics" sessions, but the members of the panel made it more interesting than most of these types of sessions.

Marc Rotterman, Republican media consultant had some interesting views on what the party is doing wrong in getting its message out, even when the message is consistent. However he did point out that a lot of our problem is that the message has become blurred and contradictory in some places, and we need to make sure we know what we believe.

Fred Barns also had some interesting thoughts, but in many ways he is currently quite negative on the Republican Party for the same reasons articulated by Rotterman. He does not buy the message, believes the public has lost confidence in us and does not think the message is consistent either.

As the evening dinner session got started, there was considerable delay because of all the people who wanted to meet our senior Senator, Elizabeth Dole. Here Natalie Waddington from Pasquotank County, and Harvey West from Washington County, spend a few minutes getting to know Senator Dole.

Thomas Stith was moderator for this final event and called the session to start.

The meal session was opened with a prayer by Nathan Tabor, author and blogger.

A local cub scout led everyone in the "pledge of allegiance".

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Graham was the opening speaker for the dinner session, and talked of his vision for our state, and the efforts he has put into reducing our gas taxes.

The Keynote speaker for the evening was Senator Elizabeth Dole. She delivered a good speech but it seemed more rehearsed than extemporaneous. It covered all the standard talking points for conservatives, however one interesting statistic was included. Low income families in America receive $22,000 plus in benefits each year, but that number is dramatically reduced if the family has workers. Government still punishes work.

At the end of the conference everyone just seemed to keep on talking, hesitant to let it end. Here Al Lytton and Pearl Floyd talk with one of the attendees about their thoughts and interests.

Civitas did a great job for the second year in a row. A special thank you to Jack Hawke and Thomas Stith for a job well done.

Day One
Civitas Institute - North Carolina
Conservative Leadership Conference

I was quite excited to be attending the Civitas Institute Conservative Leadership Conference for North Carolina. However a previous commitment to do a presentation at the UHS Hospice luncheon for volunteers meant I would miss half the first day. As soon as I finished my presentation in Ahoskie I headed out for Raleigh at the maximum speed consistent with safety. I am pretty sure I didn't break any speed limit laws because I was not ticketed. (Isn't that the only measure?)

The main reason I was in a hurry was I didn't want to miss the Friday afternoon forum on "Parental School Choice".

Because of my late arrival, I did miss the speech by Rudi Giuliani who was Keynote speaker for the opening luncheon. From comments by people who were there, it was a good speech. He even got into School Choice in his speech and I would like to have heard those comments. Hal Young of the John Locke Foundation had a good question for Rudi, "Isn't this a state activity, not federal?" Civitas President, Jack Hawke, said of Rudi "Our Civitas Decision Maker poll shows Rudy Giuliani squarely in the lead in our state (North Carolina). Today he evoked a spirit we haven't seen since Reagan. And his record of putting people to work and protecting our nation is proven." The Associated Press coverage of Rudi's speech can be found here and here.

I also missed the forum on Education which included Chairman of the NC Board of Education Howard Lee (D) on the panel, along with Dale Fowell, Representative from Forsyth County (R), Harry Brown, Senator from Onslow County (R) and Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation . I heard it was rather confrontational forum and I wish I could have been there. I will try to find out more from those who attended and update that here later.

[Update -
Here is Hal Young's coverage on the Education Panel including detailed coverage of Howard Lee's comments. Here is Hal's coverage of the Q&A session that followed. ]

First stop when I arrived in Raleigh was at the registration desk where I picked up my credentials for the event. Civitas Institute is a fairly new organization but they are well managed and well organized. The ladies at the desk were superb and it only took a moment. They directed me to the two locations I needed right then, the media room and the location of the "Parental School Choice Forum".

The School Choice Panel, included the following people, shown below, Michael A. Benjamin, Executive Director of "Florida Alliance for Choices in Education", Shaka Mitchell, Outreach Coordinator of the "Institute for Justice", the Moderator was Terry L. Stoops, Education Policy Analyst of the John Locke Foundation, Darrell Allison, President of "Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina", and Deborah Greiveldinger, State Program Director for the "Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation".

Deborah Greiveldinger, shown above, made the first presentation. She gave an excellent background on the history of the School Choice movement, and her presentation included two powerpoint slides that gave the status of school choice changes from 2006 to 2007.

The most significant changes to legal status of school choice have occurred in Georgia with the passage of school choice legislation that merely awaits the signature of the Governor, which is believed to be likely.

Next we heard from Shaka Mitchell, shown below, of the
Institute for Justice, a Washington based public interest law firm which is helping pro school choice parents and organizations overcome the hostility of the education unions and bureaucrats.

Shaka helped address the question, "Is school choice constitutional?", since so often the unions and bureaucrats claim it is not.

For the first time ever we have a single authoritative and comprehensive resource for answering that question in every state in the union. That report finds that for nearly every state, the answer is yes, if the legislation is crafted properly. Shaka provided Forum attendees with copies of the report, “School Choice and State Constitutions: A Guide to Designing School Choice Programs,” published by the "Institute for Justice and the American Legislative Exchange Council". It documents the relevant state constitutional provisions and case law in each state and makes specific recommendations for designing programs most likely to withstand legal challenges from school choice opponents.

Clark Neily, an IJ senior attorney who co-authored the report with IJ Senior Litigation Attorney Richard D. Komer was quoted by Shaka as saying “Opponents have become increasingly creative in their use of state constitutions to try to thwart equal educational opportunity, but this report debunks their bogus constitutional claims.” You can read more about the
“School Choice and State Constitutions" report on their web site.

Shaka shared one other "fact" that explains why there is so much demand for "school choice". A fact that is unfortunately not true of just the one school system he reported it about. In the Cleveland high school system only one-in-fourteen graduated on time. The exact same number, one-in-fourteen, was physically assualted severly enough that it required medical attention. So an entering freshman had an equal chance of graduating or being beaten. That is our public school system today.

Florida is at the forefront of Parental School Choice and our next speaker, shown above, was Michael Benjamin of FACE who has been active in making school choice happen in that state. Michael provided updates on their ongoing success, and how it is helping to improve educational opportunities for their children. Michael also gave attendees copies of the Florida Department of Education manual on School Choice Options.

The final speaker of the day for the school choice forum was the impressive Darrell Allison, shown above, President of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC). We covered Darrell's organization recently in another article on this blog which you can find here. I met Darrell last year when we were both working on the School Financial Work Group put together by Lindalyn Kakadelis of the North Carolina Education Alliance . The first PEFNC rally was an amazing success. Expecting 300 attendees, over 1,000 people showed up, some having driven for up to two hours on a school night just to find out more about school choice here in our state.

After the School Choice Forum, I spent a little time before the next official function touring some of the booths set up at the conference. At the Fred Smith for Governor booth I got to visit with a couple of friends, Joe Avery, a businessman from Smithfield in Johnston County and Steve Bizzell, Johnston County Sheriff, who was at the conference to participate as a panel member on the Illegal Immigration Forum.

The next forum of the conference was, The Reagan Legacy. This forum was set up in one of the larger rooms to accommodate the large crowd that was expected. Because of weather problems in Washington DC, 3 of the panel members were unable to attend when their flight was cancelled.

Our national anthem was sung by the choir of a local high school to open the forum.

Jack Hawke, shown above, President of Civitas Institute was the moderator for the Reagan panel.

Jim Gardner, shown above, former North Carolina Lt. Governor was the first speaker. Jim gave the seconding speech for Ronald Reagan when he opposed Richard Nixon in 1968, and was a long time supporter and friend. He shared several funny stories about Ronald Reagan amid some great history.

Patrick McHenry, Representative of North Carolina (R) is one of the youngest members of Congress and he was on the panel to give some perspective as it was joked he was not born when Reagan started his campaign for President.

Though Frank Gaffney was also impacted by the weather in Washington DC and arrived late, he did arrive after persistently finding an alternative way to get to Raleigh after his flight was cancelled. Good job Frank. Thanks for your presistence. And thanks for your memories of Ronald Reagan.

Final event of this first day was dinner.

A man whose face became quite familiar before the conference was over is Thomas Stith, shown below. Thomas, Vice President of Civitas Institute, began his career by serving as Special Assistant to former Governor Martin. After leaving the Governor’s office, Thomas pursued a marketing career with IBM’s state marketing branch in Raleigh. He graduated cum laude with a B.B.A. in management and an MBA in marketing from N.C. Central University. Thomas was moderator for most of the important functions of the conference, including this dinner event.

The first speaker he introduced was Justice Robert F. Orr, candidate for Republican nominee as Governor. Bob Orr is a man who spent many years serving at the highest levels of our North Carolina Court System. He spent 10 years as a member of the NC Supreme Court and 8 years on the NC Court of Appeals.

Bob's speech was a series of quotes that were a tad too long and a tad too obtuse for anyone who was not a lawyer to follow. In my opinion Bob comes across as too much of a Judge to connect with the average voter. That does not alter the fact that he is a good conservative and seems to represent the views that I would want a Governor to take. I would be very happy with him if he makes it to Governor.

Patrick McHenry was the second speaker at the dinner. Someone asked if there were 3 speakers for some reason and Jack Hawke said that it was simply due to so many great participants accepting the invitations that they wound up with a crowded calendar.

Closing speaker for the evening was the former Governor from Maryland, Bob Ehrlich. He is a strong conservative and this is indicated by the fact that he turned a $4 billion deficit into a $2.4 billion surplus while he was Governor of this normally rather liberal state and in which he had to deal with a liberal legislature.