By Mike Magner


-Photo by Marty LaVor

At a time when many moderate Republicans are back on their heels, the new president and CEO of the Ripon Society is seeing resurgence in the 47-year-old, centrist GOP organization.

“People are looking for something,” said Jim Conzelman, who took the helm this fall. “People are looking for a centrist type of group, one with common sense solutions to our nation’s problems.”

Conzelman, a top aide to former Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, for nearly all of his 26 years in Congress, said he plans to promote the Society’s mission through “policy get-togethers” and “bully pulpits,” as well as in the group’s quarterly magazine, The Ripon Forum.

The Ripon Society was formed in 1962 by young professionals seeking “to revive the Grand Old Party’s commitment to inclusion and reform,” according to the group’s Web site. They borrowed the name from Ripon, Wis., which calls itself the birthplace of the Republican Party.

Conzelman said Ripon’s history, including early support for the civil rights movement and promotion of trade with China before President Richard Nixon went there in 1972, can be a guide for Republicans struggling to regain the majority today.

The Society has more than 1,000 active members nationwide, including many of the leading moderates on Capitol Hill, such as House Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp and Maine’s GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. The chairman of the group’s congressional advisory board is Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., one of the Society’s founders.

Conzelman is a Washington veteran, arriving in 1974 to work for his House member, Rep. Dick Shoup, R-Mont. After Shoup lost to Democrat and now-Sen. Max Baucus later that year, he joined President Gerald Ford’s White House as a speechwriter. When Ford left office, Conzelman worked for the select committee reinvestigating the assassination of President John Kennedy and then for one-term Rep. Jim Dunn, R-Mich., before joining Oxley’s staff.

Conzelman joined Ripon in 1986 with Oxley, an active member. His first assignment was representing the Society at the rededication of the Statue of Liberty at a transatlantic ceremony in Paris.

When Oxley retired from the House in 2006, Conzelman joined him at the Baker Hostetler law firm, then went to the Stanford Financial Group and later to the National Field Resource Network before moving to Ripon full time.

At Ripon, Conzelman replaced two people: Rick Kessler, who went from president to president emeritus, and George McNeill, who had been chief administrative officer.