State Policy Network is pleased to introduce Libertas Institute as one of two state think tanks hosts for the SPN 26th Annual Meeting, which takes place on October 9-12, 2018, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In this interview, the Libertas Institute introduces its team, discusses which issues this passionate, entrepreneurial team is working on, and how this work is making a difference in Utah.
The Libertas Institute was founded in 2011 by Connor Boyack, and its mission is to clear the path of opportunity for each Utahn by removing obstacles that limit freedom.
SPN: Let’s start by learning about the Libertas team and what a typical day at your office is like.
Libertas: Our office is informal and laid back. We practice what we preach. There aren’t heavy-handed rules, no set vacation policy, and people manage themselves. We try to empower each of our employees to own their work and use their diverse talents to help move the cause forward.
Our employees come from diverse backgrounds and bring several unique skillsets to the table. Our vice president, DJ Schanz, is an entrepreneur and networker with a razor sharp memory and an activist personality. Our policy director, Michael Melendez, happens to be one of the nation’s most accurate pollsters. And our communications director, Nichelle Aiden, is a professional actress who’s now as comfortable behind the camera as she is in front of it. Molly Davis, our policy analyst, is an outdoor enthusiast who recently launched her own podcast.
Several of our employees serve their communities through other positions where they can make a difference. Our new development director, Zach Jacob, happens to also be an elected city councilman (we don’t hold it against him). Hannah Monson, our development associate, was recently a trail walker with the Anasazi Foundation, helping troubled teens. Jonathan Hayes, our operations manager, recently applied to become a police officer. His background check revealed he worked for Libertas Institute, so they turned him down (oops). Josh Daniels, our policy advisor, is also currently the vice chair of the Utah County Republican Party.
We have a great team of fun, hardworking, and passionate people who are anxiously engaged in a great cause!
SPN: What issues do you primarily focus on?
Libertas: Libertas Institute was established to focus on a broad range of issues. We work on issues ranging from property rights and economic liberty to individual liberty and criminal justice. We’ve cultivated an effective strategy for getting things done and checking government power. Right now, we have an 82% success rate for the policies we’ve proposed.
SPN: Why are these issues important for Utah?
Libertas: Utah has a heritage of resistance to government power. Before becoming a state, the territory of Utah was founded by pioneers exiled from their own country after suffering profound persecution. This sentiment subconsciously exists a century and a half later, and manifests itself in the issues we work on. Utahns are often receptive to limiting government power and preserving the rights of the individual.
SPN: Where do you see the next big opportunity to increase freedom in Utah?
Libertas: The problems inherent in public schooling affect—and infect—the rest of the political process. Over a decade ago, the Utah Legislature enacted vouchers, but the teacher’s union successfully overturned it through referendum. The consequences of this action—supported by our current Governor—are still felt today. Long-term change in our political climate, and in our institutions, requires infusing the school system with market-based principles and incentives. This is our next big opportunity and one for which we see significant urgency.
SPN: How are Utah’s policy landscape and opportunities different from the rest of the country?
Libertas: Utah’s pioneer heritage and pro-family culture have positioned our state as an incubator, of sorts, for pro-freedom policies. Despite some important successes, we also face a significant challenge: many Utahns are asleep at the wheel. Being showered with accolades like “best managed state” and “best in business” has led Utahns to believe that things are just fine. Our work requires helping these people see that we’re being graded on a curve; while in many ways Utah is ahead of other states, there is a ton of opportunity to be better.
SPN: What has been the most memorable moment for Libertas Institute in the last year?
Libertas: A few years ago, we discovered that our Attorney General’s office had conspired with fellow prosecutors to deceive the legislature into voting for a bill that expanded government’s ability to seize people’s property without a criminal conviction. Its sponsor explained to colleagues that the bill had nothing more than technical changes. Snuck into a 50-page bill that nobody read, this expansion of civil asset forfeiture passed unanimously.
We discovered the changes a few months later and, in the following session, we spearheaded the effort to overturn these changes and restore the property rights and due process protections previously in law. Since then, our organization has been led the way to restrict forfeiture and narrow the government’s power to take people’s property without a criminal conviction.
SPN: What are you looking forward to most about SPN’s Annual Meeting in October?
Libertas: We love the ability to network with like-minded freedom fighters in other states and share ideas that we can collectively work on to move the cause of liberty across the country.
You can say hello to the Libertas Team in person at their host event—the Welcome Reception that kicks off Annual Meeting on Tuesday, October 9.
In the meantime, we invite you to learn more about this year’s Annual Meeting and register to attend. To learn more about Libertas Institute, you can find them at Libertasutah.org. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.