State Policy Network
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SPN History: A Timeline


In 1986, a small group of staff and supporters of state-based policy organizations met at the Madison Hotel in Washington DC. At the time, this group had no idea their participation in this meeting marked the beginning of what is today called State Policy Network (SPN)—an organization whose primary mission is to serve and strengthen the community of state-based policy organizations.

SPN was originally called the Madison Group—named after the hotel they met at in the late 1980s. 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 the years passed, the state policy research community continued to grow. 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.

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.

Take a look below at SPN’s key milestones throughout the years.

Page Contents
  • 1984-1990
  • 1991-1995
  • 1996-2000
  • 2001-2005
  • 2006-2010
  • 2011-2015
  • 2016-2020

1984-1990

1984

Independence Institute Founded in Colorado

1985

Washington Policy Center Founded in Washington State

1986

Pacific Research Institute Founded in California

1986

President Ronald Reagan urges successful entrepreneur and philanthropist Tom Roe to create a network of think tanks in the states

1986

South Carolina Policy Council founded by Tom Roe and a group of other influential South Carolinians

1986

SPN is founded. The organization originated in 1986 as the Madison Group, an informal confederation of the state think tanks and their supporters. The group was named after the Madison Hotel in Washington, DC—where they first met

1987

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Founded (Now called the Badger Institute)

1987

Yankee Institute for Public Policy Founded in Connecticut

1987

The Madison Group holds its second meeting with eight think tanks in attendance

1988

By the end of 1988, there are 10 state-based think tanks

1988

Commonwealth Foundation Founded in Pennsylvania

1988

Goldwater Institute Founded in Arizona

1988

The James Madison Institute Founded in Florida

1988

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Founded in Michigan

1988

Pioneer Institute Founded in Massachusetts

1989

Alabama Policy Institute Founded

1989

Texas Public Policy Foundation Founded

1989

The Madison Group hosts a set of meetings

1990

Center of the American Experiment Founded in Minnesota

1990

Freedom Foundation Founded in Washington State


1991-1995

1991

Cascade Policy Institute Founded in Oregon

1991

Georgia Public Policy Foundation Founded

1991

John Locke Foundation Founded in North Carolina

1991

Nevada Policy Research Institute Founded

1992

ANNUAL MEETING—Colorado Spring, CO (Attendance: 19)

1992

Byron Lamm Hired as Executive Director

1993

ANNUAL MEETING—Traverse City, MI (Attendance: 25)

1993

Ethan Allen Institute Founded in Vermont

1993

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Joseph Dolan of The JM Foundation, Thomas A. Roe of The Roe Foundation, and J. Patrick Rooney of Golden Rule Insurance Company

1994

ANNUAL MEETING—Tampa, FL (Attendance: 22)

1994

Michigan adopts paycheck protection for 45,000 unionized state workers

1994

The Buckeye Institute Founded in Ohio

1994

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to John Andrews of Texas Public Policy Foundation and Joseph Bast of The Heartland Institute

1995

ANNUAL MEETING—San Diego, CA (Attendance: 33)

1995

Arkansas Policy Foundation Founded


1996-2000

1996

ANNUAL MEETING—Minneapolis, MN (Attendance: 39)

1996

Sutherland Institute Founded in Utah

1996

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to William Eggers of The Reason Foundation, John H. Fund of The Wall Street Journal, and Lawrence W. Reed of Mackinac Center for Public Policy

1997

ANNUAL MEETING—Tempe, AZ (Attendance:35)

1997

SPN Celebrates 5th Year: 34 State Think Tanks

1997

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Carl Helstrom of The JM Foundation and Bob Williams of Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

1997

Virginia Institute for Public Policy Founded

1998

ANNUAL MEETING—Atlanta, GA (Attendance: 48)

1998

Kansas Policy Institute Founded

1998

Rio Grande Foundation Founded in New Mexico

1998

SPN refines its mission to 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

1998

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to C.C. Guy of South Carolina Policy Council, Edward T. McMullen, Jr. of South Carolina Policy Council, John M. Hood of John Locke Foundation, and Joseph P. Overton of Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

1999

ANNUAL MEETING—Dallas, TX (Attendance: 67)

1999

Carl Helstrom named SPN's Chairman of the Board of Directors

1999

Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy Founded in New Hampshire

1999

SPN hires President Tracie Sharp. Sharp helped launch Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute in 1991

1999

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Grover N. Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Robert W. Poole, Jr. of Reason Foundation

2000

Longtime Chairman of the Board Tom Roe passes away. Tom had an abiding vision for SPN as a service and networking organization that would help coordinate state and national efforts to promote free enterprise

2000

ANNUAL MEETING—St. Louis, MO (Attendance: 146)

2000

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to J. Stanley Marshall of James Madison Institute, William H. "Chip" Mellor of Institute for Justice, and Lovett "Pete" Peters of Pioneer Institute


2001-2005

2001

ANNUAL MEETING—Boulder, CO (Attendance: 167)

2001

Grassroots Institute of Hawaii Founded

2001

Mackinac Center for Public Policy launches MichiganVotes.org— the world’s first web-driven legislative database that describes in plain English every bill and amendment, as well as recording every vote of every legislator

2001

Maryland Public Policy Institute Founded

2001

Oklahoma passes right-to-work, the first state to do so since 1985

2001

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Steve Buckstein of Cascade Policy Institute and Bridgett G. Wagner of The Heritage Foundation

2002

ANNUAL MEETING—Indianapolis, IN (Attendance: 180)

2002

Illinois Policy Institute Founded

2002

Maine Heritage Policy Center Founded (Now the Maine Policy Institute)

2002

SPN Celebrates 10th Year: 43 State Think Tanks

2002

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Jo Kwong of Atlas Economic Research Foundation and Gary Palmer of Alabama Policy Institute

2003

ANNUAL MEETING—Seattle, WA (Attendance: 223)

2003

Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions Founded in Kentucky

2003

The first Overton Award presented to Lynn Harsh, executive director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. The award is given occasionally to a colleague in the movement who exhibits qualities of leadership, loyalty, management innovation, support for the cause of liberty, and who is also an indispensable right-hand man or woman who may not be in the limelight but whose contribution to his or her organization is nonetheless vital

2003

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Gisèle Huff of the Jacquelin Hume Foundation

2004

ANNUAL MEETING—Austin, TX (Attendance: 250)

2004

Beacon Center of Tennessee Founded

2004

Thomas A. Roe Award Presented to Sally Pipes of Pacific Research Institute

2005

ANNUAL MEETING—Charleston, SC (Attendance: 310)

2005

Civitas Institute Founded in North Carolina

2005

Show-Me Institute Founded in Missouri

2005

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Jon Caldara of Independence Institute


2006-2010

2006

ANNUAL MEETING—Milwaukee, WI (Attendance: 400)

2006

Montana Policy Institute Founded

2006

SPN begins Searle Freedom Trust grants to help state think tanks build capabilities in the states

2006

SPN raises more than $1 million in revenue

2006

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Darcy Olsen of Goldwater Institute

2007

ANNUAL MEETING—Portland, ME (Attendance: 410)

2007

Freedom Foundation of Minnesota Founded

2007

Platte Institute Founded in Nebraska

2007

SPN launches the 50-50-5 campaign

2007

SPN’s 15th Year: 52 State Think Tanks

2007

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Kevin Gentry of Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

2008

ANNUAL MEETING—Scottsdale, AZ (Attendance: 463)

2008

Pelican Institute Founded in Louisiana

2008

SPN Hosts First CEO Retreat

2008

SPN begins a three-year project to drive greater transparency in state governments

2008

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Brooke Rollins of Texas Public Policy Foundation

2008

Wyoming Liberty Group Founded

2008

SPN launches Generation Liberty Fellows Program providing scholarships to attend Annual Meeting as well as tailored programming to young professionals who are just getting started in the state policy field

2009

Alaska Policy Forum Founded

2009

ANNUAL MEETING—Asheville, NC (Attendance: 570)

2009

Caesar Rodney Institute Founded in Delaware

2009

MacIver Institute Founded in Wisconsin

2009

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Art Pope, President and Chairman of the Board of the John William Pope Foundation

2009

Eight Development Directors gather for the network’s first Development Directors Retreat (Today, there are over 100 development staff employed in SPN affiliate organizations)

2010

Advance Arkansas Institute Founded

2010

ANNUAL MEETING—Cleveland, OH (Attendance: 615)

2010

California Policy Center Founded

2010

Idaho Freedom Foundation Founded

2010

SPN begins the Direct Mail grants program, providing grants to help SPN affiliates build a robust Direct Mail program

2010

SPN sponsors its first strategic positioning session with an SPN affiliate organization

2010

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Tarren Bragdon of Maine Heritage Policy Center


2011-2015

2011

ANNUAL MEETING—Bellevue, WA (Attendance: 650)

2011

Foundation for Government Accountability Founded in Florida

2011

Kevan Kjar delivers a plenary talk on the importance of storytelling at the SPN Annual Meeting in Bellevue, Washington

2011

Libertas Institute Founded in Utah

2011

Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity Founded

2011

SPN hosts its first ArrowHead Workshop

2011

SPN's mission evolves from having a think tank in every state to building free market movements in every state anchored by highly performing and independent think tanks

2011

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to John Tillman of Illinois Policy Institute

2012

SPN begins providing grants to allow network CEOs to engage in professional executive coaching (since then, 45 senior executives of SPN affiliates have receive executive coaching through the program)

2012

ANNUAL MEETING—Amelia Island, FL (Attendance: 780)

2012

The Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award presented to Jason Moore

2012

Indiana passes right-to-work, the first state to do so since 2001

2012

SPN Celebrates 20 Years: 59 State Think Tanks

2012

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to David R. Brown of Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and The Heritage Foundation

2013

ANNUAL MEETING—Oklahoma City, OK (Attendance: 829)

2013

The Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award presented to Jennifer Parini

2013

Empire Center for Public Policy Founded in New York

2013

Empower Mississippi Founded

2013

Michigan becomes the 24th right-to-work state—20 years after Mackinac first called for the reform

2013

Palmetto Promise Institute Founded in South Carolina

2013

SPN launches We the People project. The project provided a series of educational stories about American founding principles, the Constitution, and economic freedom in the form of curriculum, videos, podcasts, study guides, and blog posts

2013

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Joe Lehman of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

2014

ANNUAL MEETING—Denver, CO (Attendance: 911)

2014

Cardinal Institute of West Virginia Founded

2014

Granite Institute Founded in New Hampshire

2014

Overton Award presented to Charles Mitchell of Commonwealth Foundation

2014

PR-CIPP founded in Puerto Rico

2014

SPN boosts more multistate policy mobilization and issue campaigns

2014

The Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award presented to Patti Morrow

2014

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Jeff Coors of Golden Technologies Company

2015

ANNUAL MEETING— Grand Rapids, MI (Attendance: 1,005)

2015

Overton Award presented to Kristina Rasmussen of Illinois Policy Institute

2015

The Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award presented to Elaine Vechorik

2015

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Whitney Ball of Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund

2015

Wisconsin becomes the 25th state to pass right-to-work


2016-2020

2016

The Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award presented to Kirk Allen and John Kraft

2016

Garden State Initiative Founded in New Jersey

2016

SPN updates its visual brand and website—chooses the tagline “State Solutions. National Impact.”

2016

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s innovative digital strategy and education awareness campaign helps to end the Hall Income Tax. This is the first repeal of an income tax in nearly 50 years

2016

Thomas A. Roe Award presented to Clint Bolick of the Arizona Supreme Court

2016

West Virginia becomes the 26th state to pass right-to-work

2016

ANNUAL MEETING—Nashville, TN (Attendance: 1,324)

2017

ANNUAL MEETING—San Antonio, TX (Attendance: 1,288)

2017

Kentucky becomes the 27th state to pass right-to-work

2017

Missouri becomes the 28th state to pass right-to-work

2017

SPN’s 25th Year: 66 State Think Tanks

2017

SPN and a coalition of more than 25 states successfully see to the end of the implementation of the Clean Power Plan

2018

ANNUAL MEETING—Salt Lake City, UT

2018

SPN’s Generation Liberty Fellows Program celebrates its 10th Anniversary. To date 401 Fellows have attended Annual Meeting to connect with the Network and develop their skills

2018

US Supreme Court decides in favor of Mark Janus in landmark Janus v. AFSCME and restores First Amendment rights to government workers

2019

ANNUAL MEETING—Colorado Springs, CO (Attendance: 1,300)

2020

SPN launches Development Apprentice Program