by Bryan Myrick
Elephants are roaming free in Ocean Shores, Wash. this weekend, as Republicans from around Washington State converge on the hibernating beach town on the dramatic Pacific Coast for the second annual Roanoke Conference. Hundreds of Republicans filled the main room of the Ocean Shores Convention Center, and the event could not have come at a better time for the GOP in the Evergreen State.
Debate has persisted over whether the party should lick its wounds or count its blessings following disappointing 2010 returns. If left to fester, those disagreements could threaten the more productive conversation on how to get Republicans elected in a mostly blue state like Washington.
A critical dialogue around the party’s strategy for winning was at the core of the full-day agenda in Saturday sessions, one that focused on participation and open discussion. Even in a room filled with such high flyers as Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, newly elected Washington State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur (among the many other notable attendees), it was clear that titles of office had been checked at the door.
As moderated panels of public officials and experts represented opposing arguments on key issues – the effect of the initiative process on state politics, the proper role of the state party, and whether the U.S. Congress should adopt a balanced budget amendment – gave way to open comment before straw poll voting, what emerged was a robust debate with some surprising results.
Tonight, the festivities shift into celebration mode with a dinner featuring a keynote speech by White House Press Secretary for Pres. George W. Bush and Fox News commentator Dana Perino. Perino will be introduced by Washington State’s newest Republican in Congress, Rep. Jaimie Herrera Buetler (WA-03).
The conference will wrap up Sunday morning.