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Austin, Texas
October 22, 2004
Tracie J. Sharp, President of State Policy Network

President's remarks, SPN Annual Meeting

Good afternoon. To all who were not with us for lunch yesterday, I want to extend a warm welcome to the 12th annual meeting of the State Policy Network. We're very glad to have you with us. We are honored to have as our special guest and speaker today, Governor Rick Perry of the great state of Texas.

You know, I love Texas stories, but a Texan told me one today that I think might have been stretching it a little. He said an El Paso policeman pulled a car over and told the driver he had just won $50 dollars for safe driving. The cop then asked the driver what he was going to do with the money.

"Well," said the driver, "I think I'll get myself a driver's license."

"Oh, don't listen to him," yelled a woman in the front seat. "He's always a smart aleck when he's drunk."

Her yelling woke up the guy napping in the back seat, who looked at the cop and moaned, "I knew we wouldn't get far in a stolen car."

Just then there was a knock from inside the trunk, and a voice said in Spanish, "Are we over the border yet?"

You just gotta love Texas! So for Governor Perry and all the other Texans here today, let's put our hands together and let them know just how much we're enjoying their hospitality.

Yesterday we held several sessions on tax policy, so you should be ready for a trivia question on taxes: What is the special significance of today's date, October 22, in the history of tax policy? Does anyone know? Maybe some of our tax gurus?

There are two answers. First the bad one — and feel free to boo:

And then the good news — feel equally free to express your appreciation: Before I ask Brooke Rollins to introduce Governor Perry, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the work you're all doing in your respective organizations, and about the kind of difference you're making by working through the State Policy Network.

Over the past 40 years, the way public policy is made has changed significantly, and your presence here today represents the kind of change I want to focus on.

Begin with a big picture. Let me give you a few numbers gathered by Andrew Rich, a political science professor at City College of New York, who recently published a book about think tanks. Here are some of his statistics for the period from 1960 through 1996.

So, in this big picture we see two striking features: We now outnumber left-of-center think tanks by a ratio of 2-to-1.

Now let's zoom in and narrow the picture a little. Andrew Rich also found that the growth of think tanks was even more pronounced at the state and local level.

By the mid-1990s, one-third of all think tanks operating in the United States — about 100 organizations — were principally concerned with state and local issues. At that level, new think tanks on the free-market side were created at more than triple the rate of those on the left.

By the mid-1990s, there were 47 right-of-center think tanks operating in 34 states. By contrast, only 22 liberal organizations were operating in just 15 states. Or, to put it another way, we on the right have more than twice as many think tanks as the left, operating in more than twice as many states.

These are quantitative measures. Now if we turn to qualitative measures, what sorts of differences do we see? Ironically, the most detailed progress reports on qualitative measures come from the left. Over the past few years, liberals have awakened to discover just how busy free-market advocates have been over the past several decades. And they've been ringing alarm bells all over the place.

You're probably familiar with the 1999 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, titled "$1 Billion for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s."

The report documented many gains made by national think tanks on the right. And, like Professor Rich, it took note of the growing importance of work at the state and local levels. Let me read you a brief excerpt:

Beyond its reservoir of human capital, the national conservative policy institutions are well-endowed with allies in the state and local arenas, along with strong networks to manage these alliances.

[That would be us.]

If conservatives can sustain the recent trend toward devolving federal responsibilities to the state level, these relationships will become ever more important for implementing long-term strategic efforts to reduce the size and scope of government. But even in the absence of further devolution, the growing sophistication with which the national and local conservative policy activists coordinate their efforts is likely to yield rising dividends.

Another alarm bell was sounded in 1999 by People for the American Away. Their report focused on school choice initiatives promoted by the Children's Scholarship Fund and CEO America. Here's a brief excerpt:

A crucial element to CSF's and CEO America's success has been the right-wing State Policy Network. Established in 1992, it links state-based policy groups such as the Buckeye Institute (Ohio), James Madison Institute (Florida) and the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (Washington). SPN allows major national groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Free Congress Foundation to become associate members. These state think tanks followed the Heritage model of extensive public relations plans courting the media and politicians in an effort to have more impact on public policy.

Earlier this year the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy issued another hefty report on free-market policy organizations. This one, titled "Axis of Ideology," sounded the alarm even more loudly about the work you good people are doing at the state and local level. Again, let me give you their words verbatim:

The State Policy Network has been influential in growing the number of state-based think tanks by providing its members with invaluable services such as program planning, outreach to media, business leaders and politicians, and marketing economic liberty theories to new segments of the population....

Members of SPN have had significant impact within their respective states. They provide the research for legislators at the state levels who do not have research that is available on the national level to national policymakers.

The Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont, for example, played a large role in influencing the state House leadership to make school choice a priority. The Independence Institute in Colorado has been successful, through its research and public events, in influencing policymakers to permanently cut income and sales tax rates. In Iowa, the Public Interest Institute's policy study on the estate tax formed the basis of Sen. Charles Grassley's speech to the Senate on why the estate tax should be eliminated. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan helped to create charter school laws for the state and had prompted other states to follow its model.

The leaders of these organizations have also moved beyond strictly performing research. The former director of the Goldwater Institute, Jeff Flake, is currently serving in Congress as the representative for Arizona's sixth district. Tom Tancredo, the former executive director of the Independence Institute, was elected to Congress in 1998 as a representative for Colorado.

The success of conservatives at the state level is in drastic contrast to the grassroots progressive movement. More and more progressives are finding themselves up against strong right-wing opposition with high levels of funding and many allies within the government.

Obviously, the secret of your growing success is no secret at all. The left not only sees it but reports on it in great detail. And I certainly see it all the time. I like to think of my job as helping to manage capital accounts. I'm talking about human capital. Just run your eye down the list of people in today's sessions on development and leadership development, and you'll see what I mean:

I haven't named everyone, but I think I've mentioned the best looking ones. You can see how much knowledge and experience and expertise we can bring together as a network. The names on our agenda constitute a great wealth of human capital.

This is why we gain ground while the other side rings alarm bells. We share capital because we share a common vision. Being at the center of the network, I'm in an ideal position to see just how much sharing takes place, and I see it all the time. I see an enormous generosity among all of you to share techniques, methods, and even complete studies — always with the copyright attached, of course.

SPN encourages peer mentoring to help younger think tanks get on their feet. And your response is so encouraging. I see state think tank CEOs like Bob Williams of Evergreen, Larry Reed of Mackinac, and Darcy Olsen of the Goldwater Institute, traveling around the country helping other state groups gain momentum — and they do this at no charge.

SPN has recently begun covering their travel expenses, and we hope to do more as funding permits. There is so much capacity-building and sharing of best practices among SPN members, the overall standard of state groups is continually rising as a result.

There's another reason we're achieving this progress, and it's the one reason that makes all the others possible: financial support. Several of those who provide major support for SPN are with us today.

[You might want to mention names a few names here.]

On behalf of all SPN members, I want to thank you. Were it not for your generosity, we simply couldn't carry on this vital exchange of knowledge and talent, and we would not be gathered here today.

In supporting SPN, you are investing in a long-term trend that is paying ever higher dividends. In closing, let me sum up the main components of this trend:

  1. Think tanks are playing an increasingly influential role in making public policy.

  2. The fastest growth is occurring among state and local think tanks.

  3. That growth is greatest among free-market think tanks, by a margin of more than 3 to 1.

  4. By facilitating the sharing of human capital, State Policy Network is adding qualitative leverage that is hard to measure precisely, but which is obvious and alarming to our opponents on the left.
To all of you who provide the funding that makes this success possible, and to all of you in the trenches who are achieving this success day in and day out, I salute you — and I thank you very, very much.

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