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How one free-swinging group helps Colorado conservatives make a splash in politics

July 3, 2013

By Chet Hardin

Colorado Springs Independent

If you travel in the conservative circles of Colorado politics, there is nowhere you’d be more comfortable in on this February morning than at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

Hundreds of conservative activists and politicians have overrun the swank resort for the annual retreat of Leadership Program of the Rockies. The two days here will be filled with back-to-back lectures, networking sessions, and a screening of the pro-fracking documentary, FrackNation.

The mission: to restore the small-government principles upon which organization leaders believe this country was founded. The strategy: to hone the message.

One of today’s speakers, Bill Whittle, has given such messaging a lot of thought, as you might expect from a conservative blogger, author, filmmaker and frequent TV news guest. YouTube video clips of Whittle, typically in a gray suit and speaking before an American flag, can reach into the millions of views.

To this rapt audience, he’s explaining that conservatives must “take the moral high ground.”

“The left has one strategy and one strategy only,” he says. “They appeal to the heart. They appeal to emotion. They tell stories in such a way that people can connect to them.

“People function emotionally. So, what we have to do is take logic and history and facts, and we have to apply them with passion and emotion. And we have to personalize the story — that’s the key to victory.”

This is the over-arching message at this year’s retreat, reinforced by almost every speaker: Conservatives often lose because they are out-gamed by better storytellers.

LPR wants to change that.

It’s not exactly accurate to say that LPR is a well-kept secret. Anyone who has seriously played the political game in this state is familiar, to some degree, with the Denver-based nonprofit institute. Its signature program, an exclusive series of classes dedicated to the study of American history, has, over the past 25 years, graduated some of the biggest names in Colorado politics, from former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave to someone often talked about as a future congressman, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

In a document called “LPR Recruitment Talking Points,” the program reports that nearly half of all Republican state senators in 2013, and a third of their GOP counterparts in the House, came through LPR. In November 2012 alone, more than 20 grads won public office in Colorado.

However, largely thanks to LPR’s success in branding itself as an educational outlet, it has flown under the media radar.

Which suits LPR’s president, Shari Williams, just fine. A public relations professional by day, Williams, 53, says she hasn’t seen any possible gain in talking with the media about LPR. In fact, this is one of few interviews she says she’s given to discuss her organization.

When it comes down to it, she says, LPR doesn’t make the kind of news that grabs headlines, even if its graduates do. The goal has always been to provide an environment where small-government-minded politicos in various stages of their careers could enhance their knowledge, strengthen their political arguments, and bolster their networks.

“This is the big philosophical stuff which is not normally the stuff you put in papers,” she says.

And she’s right. But, as she says, history has proven that political change doesn’t occur overnight, and rarely starts at the ballot box. Real political change, the kind of shift that LPR hopes to create, occurs slowly, in increments at the ground level.

Change the way voters think, the argument goes, and you will eventually change the way they vote.

This is only a small portion of the long post that you can see here.