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December 01, 2023 02:11 PM UTC

Denver Mayor & Senate Dem Leader Join Groups at Right-Wing Conference

  • by: Erik Maulbetsch
Mayor Johnston, State Sen. President Pro Tem James Coleman, and a bunch of right-wingers talked family & faith policy in Denver this week.

For a keynote speech Thursday to attendees of a right-wing conference featuring major conservative and religious right organizations, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston was tapped to explain how the conservative ideas explored at the conference “can be implemented in the Denver community,” and “how can these concepts work in a city as ideologically diverse as Denver?” according to a description of Johnston’s talk posted online prior to the speech.

The American Enterprise Institute (AIE), perhaps the most prominent conservative think tank in the country, hosted a conference in Denver Thursday.

According to the agenda, only two elected officials appeared on the schedule, and in a surprise twist, both are Democrats.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and state Senate President Pro Tem James Coleman (D-Denver) joined speakers from a variety of national right-wing advocacy groups including the Koch-funded Stand Together Foundation and LIBRE Institute, as well as a pair of local conservative groups, the Common Sense Institute and Parents Challenge, which founded by school choice advocate Steve Schuck with the goal of promoting vouchers.

The event also featured speakers from two conservative Christian groups: the Acton Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, both of which advocate against LGBT rights.

Anthony Bradley is a Senior Fellow at the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based conservative Christian think tank that was founded with a mission of “integrating Judeo-Christian Truths with Free Market Principles.” An affiliate of the right-wing State Policy Network, the Acton Institute has published articles characterizing abortion as “violence against women,” asserting that being gay is a choice, and equating surrogacy with child trafficking. The Acton Institute also defends the right of religious adoption agencies to refuse to serve same-sex couples, argues for replacing public welfare with religious charities, and once published a piece (briefly) titled “Bring Back Child Labor.”

Another speaker, Dr. Jenet Erickson, who teaches at Brigham Young University in addition to her research fellowship at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), has called same-sex relationships “inherently unstable,” and says the majority of same-sex couples are “dysfunctional” and “erratic.” Like the Action Institute, IFS is part of the State Policy Network.

Erickson facilitated the day’s five panel discussions, on the “importance of the family system,” featuring speakers from two Christian nonprofits. Bradley appeared on a panel called Faith Communities and Collective Resistance, featuring another Christian nonprofit and a Stand Together Foundation program officer. All of the speakers on faith topics were Christian.

AEI Senior Fellow Naomi Schaefer Riley spoke about how to reform the foster care system to help at-risk youth. She is also known as the author of an article titled “The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations,” which resulted in her getting fired from being a contributor at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

American Enterprise Institute’s FREE Initiative Conference

The program is part of AEI’s FREE Initiative, which it says “is cultivating a deeper understanding of how families, faith communities, educational institutions, and entrepreneurial cultures weave together a moral fabric that shapes children… FREE forums are a central pillar of the FREE Initiative’s efforts. AEI will host gatherings in cities across the US with the purpose of educating and emboldening leaders to build core institutions that empower the next generation.”

Despite its name, the conference cost $125 to attend.

According to the agenda, Mayor Johnson discussed “how the ideas explored throughout the day can be implemented in the Denver community. How can these concepts work in a city as ideologically diverse as Denver? Can we work together on behalf of kids, and find a throughline of common purpose to work across ideological differences to achieve common good?”

Senator Coleman offered “remarks that outline how the institutions of family, religion, education, and entrepreneurship are faring in Denver and what unique strengths and challenges exist for the region going forward.”

Neither Mayor Johnston nor Senator Coleman responded voicemail requests for comment. This article will be updated with any responses received.


6 thoughts on “Denver Mayor & Senate Dem Leader Join Groups at Right-Wing Conference

  1. Sorta interesting that NONE of the Colorado Republicans in office were speaking.  No one from Centennial Institute or Independence Institute, either. The Speakers page also showed Chief Executives from

    * Colorado State University
    * Community College of Aurora
    * University of Denver

  2. I give Johnston props for at least reaching out to the right wing groups. I think the most likely area for them to collaborate would be in solutions for housing  homeless people.  .

    I’d love to imagine that these groups could collaborate on birth control services, like the very successful 2015 IUD and implant birth control program
    that helped teens and low income women who might otherwise have gotten abortions. But providing birth control is probably a bridge too far for your typical self righteous self-proclaimed Christian “Right to Lifer”.

    Many of the groups that are actually providing services to homeless people are Christian or “faith-based”.  It’s not too surprising, in reply to JohninDenver’s comment, that none of the “Think Tank” right wing groups participated in this conference. A, their brand is that they are ideologically pure, and so would never collaborate with a Democrat on anything. B, Their  main reason for existence in Colorado is fundraising for conservative candidates. They don’t actually craft policy for this state, as they  would be aware that their policies  would have zero chance of passing into law in Colorado.  For the other right wing groups, they can boost their profiles by claiming to have access to powerful politicians.    But maybe people living on the streets can get a little benefit from these groups at least talking with each other.  

  3. Are you suggesting that these two Dems might be right wing sympathetic on faith issues, or that they decided to offer their participation and lend credibility to the right wing conference as a gesture of bipartisanship?

  4. Bipartisanship was probably Johnston and Coleman's motive. I like that they are not ceding the "faith and family values" territory to the right wingnuts. Plenty of us liberals value  those as much or more than the wingdings do.


    1. Groovy.

      I think there's a fine line between seizing the high ground, and bestowing legitimacy on groups that don't deserve it.

      I'll leave it to better minds than mine to decide.

      1. I suggest that line can more easily be discerned by what happens next. Who keeps talking and about what? Judging by the descriptions of their remarks, it amounted to an effort to get two liberals to tell them how to make their conservative cockamamieism successful.
        Perhaps I misunderstood.

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