Friday, March 10, 2006


SRLC - 3:08 P.M. CST

The first round of speakers are now off the stage, and I think it is fair to say that there were some mixed results. First, the VOLConWife and I entered the Grand Ballroom at the Peabody just minutes before the session was supposed to begin. However, we were actually there early because, like every political event I have ever attended, the start was several minutes late. One nice Southern touch - Charlie Daniels' "Country Boy Can Survive" was playing as we entered. I guess it was distinguish this event from the Northern Republican Leadership Conference, but I did enjoy listening to Charlie after a morning full of Johnny Cash.

After the usual introductory events (invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem), Tennessee GOP Chairman Bob Davis gave a few opening remarks. Then the fun started as Senator Lamar Alexander was introduced. Lamar, without saying a word, walked to the grand piano situated on the stage and begin to rip off a few piano solos. Country singer Steve Warner, who had just sung the National Anthem, then joined Lamar for a few songs. I knew Lamar could play a little, but I had no idea he was that good. The VOLConWife thought that Warner was actually struggling to keep up.

Lamar then launched into his role as "designated driver" - the Senator in Memphis who wasn't running to be President. One interesting topic addressed by Lamar before he introduced the next speaker was the highlight of his week - 20 "No" votes in the Senate Budget Committee over the past few days that saved taxpayers millions of dollars. As Lamar put it, since most of the votes were 10-9 on defeating those appropriations, this was the importance of hanging on to the Senate in 2006. Lamar said that people should remember that voting for the messageless Democrats was a vote for higher taxes, liberal justices, and mediocre schools.

Lamar also stood by President Bush, remarking that we should do so especially when he is acting against popular sentiment but in what he believes to be a principled fashion. He cited terrorism as a prime example, but also mentioned education, the budget, the growing economy, and the Supreme Court as examples. I loved some of what Lamar had to say (and his musical talents), but overall it was a bit too superficially moderate for this conservative.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman followed Lamar. He also gets mixed results. I wasn't that impressed, but the VOLConWife was. One thing that Mehlman mentioned of interest to Tennesseans was his need to replace the retiring Bill Frist with "another principled Republican." Was Mehlman hinting that there was an unprincipled Republican in the race? I'm not sure.

Most of Mehlman's speech was dedicated to the defense of President Bush's handling of our national security and the war on terrorism. He did highlight many of the Democratic Party's word games (such as replacing "higher taxes" with "increased revenue") and other forms of their "bait and switch" campaign tactics, often comparing them to used car dealers. Mehlman, like Lamar Alexander before him, also focused on the need for education reform in America. Mehlman concluded his address with his most interesting remarks, which were all endorsements of pro-life positions for the party. There is no word if Senator McCain or Rudy Guiliani were informed of these comments from the national party chair prior to Mehlman's speech.

The next address was by the first of the prospective 2008 Presidential candidates, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Due to my previous criticisms of Governor Romney, my skepticism was quite high. I was actually worried that I might be a bit too hard on Romney. However, Governor Romney showed fantastic oratory skills and delivered an interesting, impassioned message to the delegates. Out of the first round of speakers, he was the best of the bunch.

Romney, who, I am told, is trumpeting a slogan this weekend of "Yankee Governor, Southern Values," immediately got the crowd on his side by singing the old theme song of "Davey Crockett" - with a little addition of Bill Frist in the final wording. Romney spoke of the important lessons he had learned regarding reaching across the aisle to help the people of Massachusetts, something that he had to do in "the bluest of blue states." One of the best tales Romney told was of balancing the budget by cutting wasteful programs and increasing government efficiency. Specifically, Romney spoke of cutting $20 million from a homeless program for wasteful hotel expenditures that encouraged the homeless to bilk the system. Romney also spoke of the ridiculous notion of bi-lingual education and how it hurts a significant segment of the population in their attempts to better their lives.

Romney also laid forth the 4 major challenges facing America today. First, we must deal with the jihadists and their determination to unify the nations of Islam. On this front, Romney offered praise for President Bush's actions and the sacrifices of our military. Second, Romney identified the lack of understanding in the Congress that we are spending too much money. He cited the 49% growth in discretionary spending. Romney emphatically called for a presidential line-item veto to help in this regard. Third, Romney pointed out our need for an educated workforce. In particular, Romney pointed to the few engineers and PhD-level scientists that we produce compared to nations such as China and India. He said that America risks becoming irrelevant without improvements in these fields. "We must not become the France of the 21st Century," Romney stated strongly. Continuing on educational issues, Romney called for better pay for the better teachers and minimizing the teachers' unions. Interestingly, he called for educational immigration reform, referring to how our best foreign graduates have to leave the country upon receiving their doctorates while those with limited skills and virtually no education are allowed to stay. On this front, Romney appeared quite at odds with President Bush, much to his credit. Finally, Romney spoke of the need to embrace American culture, for his feels that is what has made America great. He quoted David Landis' "The Wealth & Poverty of Nations," which this blogger found impressive.

Overall, Romney's foray into the South had to be considered a success. His charisma is infectious, and his message will play well here. Can he explain away his previous record of compromising in Massachusetts? That will be crucial if he is to secure the nomination in 2008.

Norm Coleman and David Vitter also spoke. I will provide briefs for those two speakers shortly.

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