Roanoke Conference returns amid shutdown adjustments

The upcoming Roanoke Conference of Republicans and conservatives from across the state has had to adjust its schedule because of the longest federal government shutdown in history, while its agenda includes a keynote speaker making national news for his comment about the shutdown’s impact.

“There’s a moment when people say, ‘Did you notice what percentage of this agency was viewed as nonessential?’ ” anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said in the earlier days of the shutdown. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, will be one of the featured speakers on Friday at the Ocean Shores Convention Center, where an estimated 500 of people will gather over the three days of the 10th annual conference.

“It’s very opportune that he is going to be there for us,” said Jim Keough of Seattle, one of the conference board members and one of its founders. The conference was conceived over beers at the Roanoke Inn on Mercer Island, and Ocean Shores has been host ever since, with 265 attending the first year and numbers increasing ever since.

“This is our 10th anniversary and we will be doing many different things to celebrate over the course of the weekend,” Keough said.

The conference goal is for an “open dialogue on political issues, and no-barriers networking among elected officials, prominent political thinkers, college students and grassroots activists.”

“They come to the beach in the midst of winter because the Roanoke has become their ‘retreat,’ a congenial and social setting for renewing solidarity and christening new connections,” according to the Roanoke website,

Norquist will join Kyle Mann, editor of the satirical site, for the opening event. The conference in the past has brought national figures in the conservative movement and Republican party to the beach to join with activists, government officials and former office holders to look at topical issues across the political horizon. In presidential campaign years, the conference has taken a straw poll of candidates, and last year included a review of the Trump presidency after its first year.

Keough said participants include former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, and about 30 state legislators from Olympia, with many county and city officials.

“Unfortunately due to the government shutdown, none of our congressional delegation are expected,” he noted. Invitations had been sent to Republican U.S. Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse.

Some of the panel discussions indicate topics that outline the conservative movement in a state now controlled by a Democratic majority. At 11 a.m. Saturday, a panel will discuss: “The attainable impossibility — GOP victory in a Blue state.” Another issue later in the day: “Can we talk? Reviving civility in public discourse.”

Other key issues explored on Sunday: “The Future of Healthcare,” followed by “Public, safety, mental health and guns: Balancing rights and responsibilities.”

Depending on what happens in negotiations in Washington, D.C., Keough noted there may be several panels where the government shutdown also is discussed.

The featured dinner speaker on Saturday night is Charles C.W. Cooke, editor of National Review Online and a commentator on national news programs.

Regardless of where participants stand on the political landscape, the conference has proved to be a uniting and motivating event going into the legislative and electoral seasons ahead.

“It’s always an energizing weekend. Basically, 500 people come into Ocean Shores and they leave much more knowledgeable about the issues and much more excited about our direction, and that’s a good thing for us,” Keough said.