For the third year, Republicans from across Washington State will meet in Ocean Shores, Wash. for the Roanoke Conference (January 27th-29th, Ocean Shores Convention Center). The three-day paid conference – an intentional mashup of a working weekend and social gathering – will feature many highlights, including the annual conference dinner Saturday evening and a keynote address from incisive conservative columnist Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard.

Hayes has written extensively on the GOP presidential nomination process and issues relating to the economy, the budget, and taxes, and conferencegoers should anticipate hearing his educated insights on how Republicans in Washington State should work to capitalize on national trends.

Last year’s keynote speaker, former White House press secretary and Fox News political commentator Dana Perino, gave a glowing report about her experience spending time with Republicans on the Left Coast.

“I loved being at the Roanoke Conference last year. It had all the makings of a great weekend – substance, enthusiasm, and lots of fun,” Perino said.

Perino didn’t miss an opportunity to elevate expectations for her successor on the Roanoke dais.

“This year’s speaker, Steve Hayes, is right up there with one of the best speaker’s you’ll ever hear,” said Perino.

When Washingtonians think of a great place for a winter season getaway, Ocean Shores rarely springs immediately to mind. The ocean beach town is a warm and vibrant setting for frolicking in the summer season, but in late January the term “nightlife” describes local nocturnal fauna, not after-hours entertainment, and the odds of coming back from a walk on the beach with frostbite are astronomically higher that returning with a suntan.

For Republicans, specifically, driving to Ocean Shores – situated in the heart of Grays Harbor County –means venturing into a Democratic stronghold, a place where early radical unionizing in the U.S. caught fire and kicked off the first Red Scare. Waikiki it is not.

Yet for the past three years, The Roanoke Conference has drawn hundreds of Republicans to Ocean Shores for a single purpose – to get away from familiar surroundings and have a robust and honest conversation about how to do politics smarter, win more elections, and make better policy.

This year, Republicans will compete in a governor’s race and a presidential election, will have a chance to unseat an incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator, and have a new set of opportunities in congressional and legislative districts because of redistricting. Many see 2012 as the best chance in a decade to regain a sliver of control in the state’s congressional and legislative representation, and the Roanoke Conference could not come at a more important time.

Good Ideas Are Brewed, Not Made

The original concept for the Roanoke Conference was born a half-decade ago over beers at The Roanoke Inn on Mercer Island, a brainstorm that organizer Steve Buri transformed into buzz around the idea of creating a retreat developed for the purpose of creating bonds among an up-and-coming generation of active Republicans.

For political junkies, Roanoke can be a euphoric experience, the kind that becomes the genesis of long-term ties. Luminaries from Washington’s conservative political galaxy mingle with grassroots activists and students, all of which occurs during a program hardwired for robust, honest, and collegial discussion and made possible by a well-blended program that mixes equal parts social interaction and political conversation.

What TED—the dynamic Technology, Entertainment, Design conference—is to the business and creative worlds as a place where boundaries and formulaic thinking are not only ignored but verboten, and the ideas that will determine the future of entire industries are simultaneously disseminated and germinated, it can be said that the Roanoke Conference is to the formulation of political ideas and strategies among Republicans and conservatives in Washington State.

If attendance is any indication, the formula is working. In 2010, roughly 220 made it to the first Roanoke Conference. Last year, the number topped 300, and organizers say that current registration is on a pace to set a new Roanoke record.

It’s no surprise that last year, Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times described the Roanoke Conference a “must-attend event” for Republican leaders. Not withstanding the hard work of a dedicated all-volunteer organizing board to promote and plan a three-day event, the success of Roanoke could be owed to its embracing of argument as a vital engine of political success.

A Forum for Healing Political Stretch Marks

Political parties are constantly in a process of revival – reconnecting with core values to address constantly changing circumstances and events. The fight ensuing between Republicans vying for party’s presidential nomination is one aspect of partisan soul-searching played out on a national stage, a process the great conservative British prime minister Margaret Thatcher embraced famously saying, “I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.”

The design of this year’s Roanoke Conference agenda would make Iron Maggie proud, designed not as a passive event for listening to the opinions of other, but for giving every attendee the opportunity to add their thoughts to the marketplace of ideas.

Moderated debates, roundtable discussions, and expert panels dominate the Saturday schedule and conferencegoers can participate again in a straw poll of the Republican presidential field at the conclusion of Roanoke Sunday morning.

For the first time, Roanoke will also host two debates between Republican congressional primary opponents in the 1st congressional district and the new 10th, a unique addition to the program that will be the first chance many activists will have to judge the options in those two critical races.

The race for the 1st congressional district seat vacated by Congressman Jay Inslee in his bid for governor will be closely watched by pundits after recent redistricting made it one of the most balanced political districts in the nation. Already, five Democrats and three Republicans have announced to run for the seat. Republicans James Watkins and John Koster are running in the 1st and have already accepted the invitation to participate in the Roanoke debate. Organizers are awaiting confirmation from Greg Anders.


[photo credit: Gage Skidmore]