Welcome to SPN’s interview series where we connect with leaders from state think tanks to share their stories and learn how their insights might inspire our work.
In this interview, we chat with Alaska Policy Forum‘s executive director, Bethany Marcum. Prior to joining the Forum, Bethany worked for the Alaska state legislature. Her involvement with the Forum started as a donor and occasional volunteer, then as a part-time writer, and eventually she joined the organization as a full-time team member.
Here are her insights on advancing freedom in America’s “last frontier”:
SPN: How did you first get involved in the freedom movement?
Bethany: I was about as non-political and non-informed as a person can be for most of my life. Exasperation about the 2008 bailouts brought me into the Tea Party movement and from there I gradually found my way to the policy world after seeing that rallies could not accomplish the change I wished to see.
SPN: Was there a moment or a role model that inspired you to choose work that’s dedicated to the cause of freedom and human flourishing?
Bethany: While there was a long delay before I took action, I can remember a moment around 1986. I was a small-town Midwest country girl who was in “the big city” of Boston for a few months, and I found a copy of Reason magazine on the subway. As I thumbed through it, I thought, “Wow, there are actually people out there who think like I do. Sure didn’t know that!” And that was the end of that for over 20 years. Flash forward to my wake-up in the Tea Party movement in 2009 when I saw a copy of Reason magazine at an event. My first thought: “Holy moly, those people are still at it. And now I’m one of them!”
SPN: Based on your observations, what do you think is the next big opportunity for the freedom movement?
Bethany: Gosh, I’m pretty new to all of this so I don’t feel at all qualified to answer. But I can say what I hope—that the Janus v. AFSCME decision completely changes the landscape of public-sector unions and unleashes a worker freedom movement like nothing we can imagine.
SPN: What do you enjoy most about being a part of a network working to promote freedom?
Bethany: It’s the network, silly! Truly, I wouldn’t even consider doing this were it not for the robust and active network of other think tanks. The ability to collaborate and gain knowledge from “those who have gone before” is invaluable.
SPN: How did you wind up at your current organization?
Bethany: First I was a regular donor to the organization and an occasional volunteer. After my stint working for the Alaska state legislature, I did some writing for the Forum and later was approached about joining full-time. But I’ll be honest, if we were a “stand alone” organization, I don’t think I would have done it. The network is key.
SPN: Where do you think the Alaska Policy Forum is making the biggest difference in people’s lives?
Bethany: We’ve done some good work educating our public about the dreadfully poor performance of many of our public schools and providing information about other public schools doing a better job. While we don’t have private school choice yet, we have helped some families choose somewhat better options. We still have a long way to go.
SPN: In hindsight, is there anything you wish you had known before taking this job?
Bethany: That I would feel so passionate about it that I can’t seem to stop working (something my husband continually reminds me of when we’re on vacation).
SPN: What has been the best moment since you joined the Forum?
Bethany: Probably the realization that some of the people who can benefit most from our policies are counting on us and are willing to invest in us. We have one guy from one of the worst parts of town who faithfully sends us $10 cash each month. It warms my heart every time I open one of his envelopes.
SPN: What resources and sources of information do you find the most helpful for your work?
Bethany: To be honest, it’s hearing about what is working at other think tanks in the SPN network. I “steal” so many ideas. Luckily, I’ve found folks in our network are very gracious with their time and knowledge.
SPN: What SPN staff member, training, or resource has had the greatest impact on your work?
Bethany: My favorite resource is the SPN Annual Meeting. I love the firehose of that week. I always come back with gigabytes of notes and full of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm to keep on keeping on.
SPN: What current issue or policy is nearest and dearest to your heart?
Bethany: Education reform, because the kids who are getting sub-standard education now will have little, if any, chance to recover. It’s an absolute tragedy.
SPN: If you had one piece of advice for others considering a career like yours, what would it be?
Bethany: Build relationships. Your success will depend on them!
SPN: When you’re not improving the world at work, where are you likely to be found?
Bethany: Hunting, fishing, and shooting—I’m an Alaskan, after all! My husband and I go hunting all over the country and the world. I’m also in the Air National Guard so sometimes after work, I’m at “the other work.”
SPN: Tell us about your favorite hobbies and pastimes.
Bethany: In addition to the above, I love to cook and garden; I’m involved with my church; I’m a “Big” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and I’m still plugging away in our state Republican party in my personal time (though I frequently question the wisdom of that!).
SPN: Who are a few of your favorite authors, blogs, etc.?