State Policy Network originated in 1986 as the Madison Group, an informal confederation of state think tanks and their supporters named after the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC, where they first met. In 1992, SPN was established as an independent 501(c)(3) educational organization providing services to its members — the state-focused, free market think tanks and their national think tank partners. At that time, the goal was to encourage cooperation and collaboration within the fledgling state think tank movement, maintaining a basic schedule of meetings and providing advisory services as needed during its first five years of operations.
As state policy research community rapidly grew and matured during the 1990s, SPN’s Board of Directors realized the need for a stronger organization that would provide additional services. After extensive discussions, the existing Board took a bold and historic step in September 1998, dissolving itself and appointing a transitional Board to fulfill the broader role envisioned for the organization. SPN’s primary mission continues to be serving and supporting independent, state-focused, market-oriented policy research organizations and these institutional changes created the flexibility to provide a broader range of services to state think tanks.
SPN’s Board, staff, and physical location changed during 1999. Byron Lamm, SPN’s founding Executive Director, passed the reins to current President Tracie Sharp in January 2000. Tracie’s career spans 30 years in the state think tank community, helping to establish and develop two successful state think tanks — the Washington Policy Center (Seattle) and the Cascade Policy Institute (Portland, OR). She has been involved with SPN since its formative years as the Madison Group.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all these changes, SPN lost a leading light when Tom Roe, its long-time Chairman of the Board, passed away in January 2000. Tom had an abiding vision for SPN as a service and networking organization that would help coordinate state and national efforts to promote freedom and free enterprise.
Carl Helstrom, then Executive Director for The JM and Milbank Foundations, succeeded Tom as Chairman of SPN in October 1999. In addition to a Board of Directors consisting of free market leaders, the President’s Advisory Council advises the President on management and policy issues facing state think tanks.
When SPN was founded, there were 12 independent, market-oriented, state-focused think tanks. Today — in less than 25 years — there are 64 representing all 50 states.
ABOUT FOUNDING CHAIRMAN THOMAS A. ROE (1927-2000)
SPN’s Founding Chairman, Thomas Anderson Roe, Jr., was born and raised in Greenville County, South Carolina. Everyone who knew Tom credited his remarkable vision and down-to-earth nature for his many successes. He was an outstanding businessman and philanthropist and a devoted friend of freedom and free enterprise both at home and abroad.
Tom graduated from Greenville’s Furman University in 1948, worked as a research assistant in the University’s cancer research project funded by a Carnegie Foundation grant, and co-authored several research papers. He also earned a business degree from LaSalle Extension University and a certificate in advanced studies from the Brookings Institution Program on Urban Policy.
Tom became Chairman of the Board of Builder Marts of America, a company he transformed from a small building material supply company into an international corporation. He served as Vice President of American Holdings, a firm with ice cream, refrigerator, and furniture manufacturing interests in the United States, along with land holding, real estate, and air cargo operations in the Dominican Republic.
Tom was active in the South Carolina Republican Party from 1954 to 1964, serving numerous terms as a Greenville County Committeeman. Gradually disillusioned with practical politics, he was impressed with the work of national think tanks to promote sound ideas as a basis for prudent public policies.
In the Reagan era, Tom was considered a national player in US policy, advising former President Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He became a Trustee and played an active role in the development of The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. In the mid-80s, he founded the South Carolina Policy Council with a group of Greenville-area businessmen.
Tom’s contributions to his state and country were recognized in numerous ways, including an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Furman University in 1980, the Order of the Palmetto of the State of South Carolina in 1995, and the Clare Boothe Luce Award from The Heritage Foundation in 1999.
Tom was dedicated to State Policy Network and its mission to extend and strengthen the community of state-based policy organizations. He worked tirelessly to make SPN a success, serving as Chairman for many years and providing untold hours of informal support in the early days of the state think tank movement. And, he provided funding through his own Roe Foundation, which continues to financially support free-market policy groups across the country.
In 1992, SPN established the annual Roe Awards in Tom’s honor to recognize leadership, innovation and accomplishment in the free market state think tank community.
In 2018, the Thomas Roe Legacy Society was established for donors to leave their legacy to safeguard freedom for future generations.