What did you think about the Freedom Conference?
"The overall conference was excellent, and the quality of speakers was really good. Unfortunately, out of the conference I got how hard it is to change what we've got."
- Stuart Hassell
"I thought it was terrific. Obviously I'm here because I believe in supporting the five core principles the institute was founded on. At the end of the day, we can debate specific legislation, whether it's TARP or the General Motors bailout, but it's really about freedom and the ability to be heard."
- Rich Lowe
"It was very insightful with the tax reform, very insightful with what Michele Bachmann had to put forth. A lot of it was just a reunion for all of us who feel concern and anger. : I think most of the people here are very intelligent, very well-read, and I just feel a lot of support for the people here."
- Michelle Schiau
"I wish everyone would have come to this, so even those on the liberal side would have some balance and maybe even a bit of enlightenment."
- Carol Ward
Steamboat Springs Grover Norquist closed out the inaugural Freedom Conference by encouraging participants to form an "exoskeleton" for their politicians.
Through raising their voices at taxpayer tea parties, rallying and speaking up at town hall meetings, conservatives can strengthen their politicians against the pressures of Washington, Norquist said. The president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform spoke during lunch Saturday at the conference put on by the Steamboat Institute at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel.
The Steamboat Institute's five core values are limited government, lower taxes, free markets, strong national defense, and individual rights and responsibilities.
Norquist focuses on lower taxes. He framed conservative groups as people who want the government to leave them alone. Liberal groups, he said, are the "takers" who want to steal money from others to serve their purposes.
"In the United States, there are two teams," Norquist said. "This is partly because there's only two directions to move in, toward more liberty or less liberty."
He advocated a flat tax on income or spending. Lawmakers would have only one way to tax citizens and would have to be upfront when increasing taxes, Norquist said. He noted that Republicans have succeeded by branding themselves as the party that won't increase taxes.
Norquist used the analogy of Coca-Cola. If one person found a rat head in a Coke, word would spread, and the Coke brand would take a hit.
"Elected Republican officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle," Norquist said. "They damage the brand for everyone else. This is not a victimless crime."
If they want to make a difference and promote good policy, conservatives need to have 218 people in the U.S. House and at least 60 in the U.S. Senate, he noted.
They also need to keep a focus on the importance of decreasing spending. The deficit isn't important, Norquist said: What's important is how much the government takes from taxpayers and how much it spends.
Norquist said he expected transparency of lawmaking and transparency of government to reach the foreground for the 2010 election. A push is under way to get a five-day waiting period on measures before a House vote. That would provide ample time for the public to read and comment on bills.
"They would never again pass a 1,000-page piece of legislation, never again. : Nothing good happens in 1,000-page piece of legislation," Norquist said.
Some states, such as Texas, have implemented measures that promote transparency of spending. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's administration posts every expense online, Norquist said. He expects that to become more common.
Norquist said he was growing optimistic as he watched conservatives make their voices heard about health care and taxes.
Conservatives also are avoiding the mistakes they made with former President Bill Clinton, Norquist said. They're criticizing President Barack Obama's policies rather than his personality.
"If Obama wandered off, we have still focused on too much spending, too much regulation, too much taxes, too much government control," Norquist said.
Steamboat Institute Chairman Jennifer Schubert-Akin closed the event by encouraging participants to take action.
"When I attended the Leadership Program of the Rockies retreat, our friend (former U.S. Rep.) Bob Schaffer challenged us : if you don't go out and set those brush fires of freedom with what you've just learned, all we did is have a nice weekend," Schubert-Akin said.
After the event, Schubert-Akin said she was pleased with the turnout. About 150 people came to the inaugural two-day conference, and she said people told her how pleased they were after each presentation.
The positive response was encouraging, and she said the Steamboat Institute hopes to put on the conference again next year.
"We definitely plan to make this a major annual event," Schubert-Akin said. "We hope this will be a good event for Steamboat."