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Undermining the state, unnerving the left
dodd benita 2013
Benita Dodd

When the State Policy Network was founded in 1996, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation — then 5 years old — was one of just 12 independent, free-market, state-focused think tanks around the nation. Its leaders could have met in someone’s garage.

Twenty-two years later, the movement has grown and flourishes. At the SPN annual conference in Denver from Sept. 23-26, 900 attendees from 65 organizations representing all 50 states met to strategize approaches on free-market, limited-government solutions to public policy.

If you haven’t heard of SPN, the think tanks’ “umbrella,” visit to find out more. You can be sure the big-government, anti-free market, “progressive” groups are paying attention. They’re doing all they can to demonize SPN and its member think tanks. They admitted as much when leftist activists descended on Detroit to hold their annual Netroots conference for online activism in July, devoting an entire session to SPN and — their puerile term — the “stink tanks.”

Their goal: “Shining light on these Stink Tanks and sort of connecting them to their real agenda, because they function by trying to be as benign as possible,” one speaker told the attendees. “That’s how they get Democrats to pass their bills; that’s how they convince Republicans to stall big government stuff. … So the next step for us is to take down, dismantle this sort of series, this network of institutions that are state-based in each and every one of our states.

“But you know, but for those [liberal] leaders standing up in those states, those guys would continue to operate with impunity, without people really being aware of what they’re up to, what their extreme agenda is and how they really are undermining the state.”

Happily for Americans, SPN’s public policy research and education groups are hardly “benign.” In fact, the theme for SPN’s 2014 conference was, “Dare to Disrupt!” The poet said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible;” Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

In every state, the “real agenda” of the think tanks is not about getting credit but about getting results: reducing government control, reducing government spending, reducing the taxes that help grow government, and promoting Americans’ individual liberty and accountability.

Understanding that liberty is won one champion at a time, for the past four years SPN’s Unsung Hero Award has honored those individuals who tirelessly chip away at big government and work at “undermining the state.” They exemplify why “undermining the state” is worthwhile.

Last year’s honoree was Jennifer Parrish, a Minnesotan who led a fight against forced unionization of home child care providers. This year, interior designer Patti Morrow of Greer, S.C., was honored for fighting since 2004 against onerous licensing requirements promoted by the protectionist American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Occupational licenses often come with “public safety” justification but, in reality, are frequently more anti-competitive, anti-entrepreneurial and job-stifling.

Georgia’s ASID Web site, which claims 660 practitioner members, lists “voluntary” requirements to be a registered interior designer, including a bachelor’s degree, biennual license renewal and “continuing education units.”

Accepting the award, Morrow shared how, as one person challenging a powerful group, she was initially intimidated by ASID’s heft. But she drew strength from the reminder that, when taking aim at a Goliath opponent, “How could I miss?!”

Challenging the Goliath of big government and statism — government’s growing control over our business and businesses — is what the “stink tanks” do. If that is an “extreme agenda” and “undermining the state,” you should thank your state think tank for raising a “stink.” Because, like the frog in the pot, unaware that the water temperature’s slowly riseing to boiling point, many Americans don’t realize that government is increasingly insinuating itself into their decisions, their choices and their wallets. And if you’ve heard of the “sue-and-settle racket,” you know that progressives and liberal activist groups frequently collude with government bureaucrats to take your money and liberties without your permission.

This foundation and its sister think tanks around the nation accept only private funds voluntarily contributed by individuals, businesses and private foundations from people inspired by their commitment to our core beliefs. None of us accept “public” funds — Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars — because we believe you should be able to choose whether and whom to fund. With your voluntary support, we dare to disrupt the growing ascendancy of government.

As SPN’s Unsung Hero Patti Morrow reminded us, “Every voice counts.”

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.