Gizzi on Politics April 6

PLC — The 20thTime, With Feeling

Harrisburg, Pa
. — Upon arriving at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel on March 27, the first thing I noticed was the lobby jammed with booths for different groups—pro-lifers, home-schoolers, border securitizers, and the ax-the-taxers, who are planning a “tea party” like the ones Newt Gingrich recommends at the State Capitol April 15 to protest high taxes.

This was the 20th meeting of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, the annual summit of Keystone State conservatives. It was also the largest, with nearly 600 activists and elected officials packing the Sheraton.  

As PLC organizer Lowman Henry pointed out, “The PLC meetings had grown smaller in the late 1990s, but Pat Toomey’s campaign [for the Senate in ’04] re-energized our annual meeting and since he last ran [for the Senate], the size of the PLC has grown.”

Recalling the first PLC session back in 1989, when the guest speaker was then-Rep. Gingrich (R.-Ga.), I saw many of those who made that meeting possible: Susan Staub of Pennsylvania Right to Work, Fred Anton of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, and Christian Leinbach, then a political consultant and now an elected county commissioner in Berks County.  

Last week, more than a score of state senators and state representatives attended the PLC. The two Republican U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania considered the most conservative, Joe Pitts and freshman Glenn Thompson, participated in a panel on dealing with the Obama administration that was moderated by conservative former Rep. (1976-96) Bob Walker (R.-Pa.), himself a speaker at the 1989 PLC. Two of the three Republican candidates for governor in 2010, State Atty. Gen. Tom Corbett and Rep. Jim Gerlach, worked the crowd, and Americans for Tax Reform head Grover Norquist addressed a Saturday morning session.

By far, the highlight of the PLC was its banquet Friday night with speaker Mike Reagan. Introduced by Harrisburg radio talk show host R.J. Harris as “America’s favorite son,” Reagan chose to sit down in front of the audience with an interviewer and take questions about his father and the Republican Party rather than make a speech from the podium. Reagan’s remarks about the current conservative movement resonated with the crowd. Recalling how Ronald Reagan frequently campaigned for candidates for lower offices, Mike Reagan said, “If we fail to do that now, we may win the top offices such as governor but not other state offices or state legislatures or anything else — just like we have in California. The future leaders of this party are in the room. So let’s continue to build the party, raise the money, and do the work.”

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