A couple months ago, organizers for one of Oregon's longest standing conservative events—the Dorchester Conference—were considering booking a politically-moderate, celebrity speaker: "Dirty Jobs" host turned blue-collar America advocate Mike Rowe.
When Rowe's $150,000 speaking fee proved to break the conference budget, board members voted in a dramatically different, albeit still pricey, direction. They booked former Reagan, Nixon and Trump advisor and right-wing provocateur Roger Stone.
Stone's standard speaking fee, according to Patrick Sheehan, the board member and former Oregon House representative who booked him, is $10,000. (Sheehan couldn't comment on the precise amount they are paying Stone, as there are multiple headliners with different agreed-upon fees scheduled to speak.)
That's a hefty price tag for an event that Sheehan says a decade ago was a "a party conference that people went to to play skee ball in Seaside for three days."
This year's choice of speaker is undoubtedly meant to drive attendance, at whatever cost.
But Sheehan is adamant that bringing Stone to Dorchester does not make it a right-wing conference.
"Bringing Stone in was an effort to keep the conference going in its original intent," Sheehan says, "Which is to spur debate. We haven't had that for a long time, we've been preaching to the choir. Stone will agitate and make people uncomfortable."
Sheehan guesses that 80 percent of the event's usual attendees won't be happy with the Stone's keynote address, but that his presence will stir up controversy and conversation.
"The far right doesn't like his vocal support of LGBTQ rights and legal marijuana," Sheehan says. "The left doesn't like Trump tactics, and moderates only like milquetoast speakers."
According to comments on the Dorchester Conference Facebook event page, Stone's visit is already garnering disapproval.
"This will only serve to weaken and discredit what little remains of Oregon's conservative voice," wrote one commenter. "Sad."
"Wow," wrote another, "a chance to see slime ooze into an auditorium. Stone represents everything that is wrong in American politics. Dirty tricks, ends-justify-the-means tactics, mendacity, dirty money. Congrats, Oregon GOP—be sure to bring your kids to this event."
The fact that so many are already voicing their displeasure with the choice to book Stone doesn't faze Sheehan.
"The conference should be wildly entertaining," he says.