The Washington Times published a news story this week suggesting a meeting of conservatives last weekend in Texas was “manipulated” to result in an endorsement of Rick Santorum, perhaps to the point of permitting ballot stuffing.

I was there.

That’s just not true.

It reminds me of what inevitably happens when you are involved in a newsworthy event and later read a news account. The account seldom bears any resemblance to what you experienced and witnessed.

I’m here to tell you the meeting was not manipulated to favor Santorum.

I was invited to participate like anyone else. I had not decided to endorse Rick Santorum to get such an invitation. In fact, I went with a different agenda entirely – deeply skeptical that any consensus for one candidate could be found in a two-day meeting.

I know most of the people who participated. They are honorable people who conducted themselves in an honorable fashion. I don’t know anyone at that meeting who would even think of stuffing ballots. It wouldn’t even be a temptation for them.

It is an insult to everyone present at that meeting to make such a suggestion.

I can tell you this without question: The meeting was one of the most remarkable I have ever attended. Supporters of Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry all made impassioned pleas for their candidates without interruption.

Three separate votes were conducted with Rick Santorum winning all of them by increasing margins. Prior to the votes, the emphasis was on prayer and reflection. Most of the discussion throughout the weekend was of a spiritual nature, not political.

No pressure was ever applied on participants to get them to change their votes of conscience – just the opposite.

The entire process was fair and above reproach and mostly cordial.

The Washington Times story suggested participants are “feuding” over the way the meeting was conducted and its results. I can say there was ample opportunity for any participants to voice such concerns and none was offered.

What does that tell you?

The entire meeting and all of the votes were taken within the time confines of those established by organizers from the beginning. It is true that some people left early. However, I am convinced the vote would have been no different in terms of percentages and results had no one left early to catch flights, as the Washington Times report suggested.

I’ve been to many political meetings in my life. I’ve never been to one that was conducted more honorably than the much-publicized gathering outside of Houston.

The criticism of the meeting is almost laughable. Almost no one believed a group of influential conservatives of faith could reach consensus on a presidential candidate. Even many of the participants were skeptical about that prospect when the meeting began. Some of the speakers were downright cynical about that possibility.

But after two days of prayer and honest and open debate we did just that.

Now the gathering is being criticized for arriving with a pre-determined conclusion.

That is not the case – not even close.

What is that old saying? “You can talk about anything, but just don’t talk about religion and politics.”

For two days, the gathering on the ranch of Judge Paul Pressler talked about nothing else but religion and politics. Some obviously left the meeting disappointed in the result. But no one should be disappointed in the process – and no dissatisfaction with the process was expressed by any participant.

My congratulations to the organizers of the meeting for calling it and conducting it so honorably. My congratulations also to Rick Santorum for winning the hearts of minds of a group of opinionated people – many of whom did not attend planning to offer him their support.

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