The Ethan Allen Institute (EAI), a nonprofit policy organization in Vermont, recently welcomed Meg Hansen as its new president. Hansen was a member of EAI’s Board of Directors and has been active in public policy and grassroots advocacy in Vermont for years.
We sat down with Meg to learn more about how the Institute is improving the lives of Vermont residents. We also heard her thoughts on the challenges the organization faces as it seeks to make Vermont a better place to live and work.
Hansen: We are giving a voice to the middle class. It’s very one-sided here. We do have a governor who is a Republican, but he’s a very liberal Republican. The entire administration is one-sided, as is the legislature—which is majority Democrat and progressive. Vermont Public Radio is also one-sided. While this is true in many parts of the nation, it can be a problem if someone is not really engaged with the issues. They might think that one side produces the only acceptable narrative.
The reason why I’m here is to give voice to Americans who have been silenced and ignored. And the one demographic that has been chronically abused—and in Vermont is teetering on extinction—is the middle class. In developing countries, there is a wealthy elite, and an underclass or lower class, a welfare dependent class. In these contexts, it is very much a two-tier system. And Vermont mirrors this concept. It’s a second home for skiers vacationing, for those who have inherited wealth. And because we give the largest, most generous welfare benefits without any work requirements, people come here to live as well. How do you pay for all of that? By squeezing as much as you can from the middle class. Through all of our policies and all of our work, I think the essence is that we provide the center-right perspective on all issues. And the Ethan Allen Institute is the only institution that does that in Vermont.
Hansen: We’re the only voice shining light on these issues. At Dartmouth College, my alma mater, the motto is, “A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.” And that’s what we are. We’re just one organization, whereas there’s an army on the left. The largest think tank in Vermont is called VPIRG. Their annual budget is close to $2 million. It’s not a level playing field. To really make a difference, to move the needle, in order to have a seat at the table—actually grab a seat at the table—we need more funding. And that’s not going to come from Vermont, because Vermont has just about 600,000 people and the government is the largest employer.
Our biggest challenge would be making a case for Vermont to the rest of the nation, to Americans who may understand that we’re in the trenches here in Vermont. And we need help. And this matters because whatever policies the left tests here, they make the blueprint here and then they’ll export it to your state. It’s coming to a legislature near you so to speak. Ultimately, our biggest challenge is expanding our operations.
Hansen: Through SPN, we’re connected to so many organizations that are doing many things that we can learn from. We’re independent, but we’re similar. We can share our resources, and we have access to that support structure. When I came on board, the welcome support that I got, including the very sweet gift basket, is very touching because we are persona non gratis here in Vermont so to speak.
When it was announced that I had taken the position, there was an outpouring of support from across the states. The Josiah Bartlett Center in New Hampshire, the Empire Center in New York—the CEOs of all of these state policy think tanks wrote to me, discussed collaborating, and so it just feels so good to be part of a family. It feels like we’re not alone.
And of course, it’s not just moral support. I very much look forward to attending SPN’s Annual Meeting. There are grants and other programs available through SPN, so there’s definitely teeth to this relationship, and we’re really grateful for it in Vermont.