Conservative group to get 1st new chief in 27 years

February 10, 2011

By Ralph Z. Hallow, The Washington Times

Alberto Cardenas, who escaped from communist Cuba when he was 12, was elected Wednesday as the new chairman of the American Conservative Union, the first change at the top of the prominent conservative organization in more than a quarter-century.

Mr. Cardenas, a prominent Miami lawyer and a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, also becomes the first Hispanic to lead a major national conservative organization.

“I’m honored and humbled to be accorded this responsibility by an ACU board whose members, in many cases, were movement conservatives before I was and who dedicated their lives to the Founding Fathers’ principles of limited government, self-reliance and personal freedom,” Mr. Cardenas said.

He takes over from David A. Keene, who has served as chairman since 1984. Mr. Keene, 65, informed the ACU board some time ago that he would be stepping down in advance of his expected election as president of the National Rifle Association in April.

With the three-day conservative conclave getting under way Thursday, CPAC organizers also announced that tea party-backed Florida Rep. Allen West, Florida Republican, regarded as among the most outspoken members of the giant freshman GOP congressional class, has been given the coveted closing address slot Saturday.

“Congressman West epitomizes the core conservative values CPAC attendees treasure: a basic belief in human freedom, traditional values and a love of country based on an appreciation of the nation’s founding documents,” Mr. Keene said in a statement.

Mr. West, who served in the military in Iraq, has already displayed a talent for attracting attention and gaining support among conservative activists. In defeating Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in November, Mr. West became the first black Republican congressman from Florida since 1876 and is one of just two blacks in the House GOP caucus.

With the vote of the 31-member ACU board, Mr. Cardenas, 63, takes over just as the CPAC gathering faces a sharp internal struggle over the presence of a pro-gay-rights Republican group called GOProud as one of its sponsors. A number of social conservative groups are boycotting this year’s gathering in protest.

The Washington Times reported Wednesday that a group of prominent conservatives have circulated a private memo urging that the movement’s founding principles be recast explicitly to exclude groups such as GOProud from the Reagan coalition of economic, security and social conservatives.

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