Leader Q&A: Amy O. Cooke
In January 2020, the John Locke Foundation welcomed Amy O. Cooke as its new CEO. Amy joined the Foundation from the Independence Institute in Colorado, where she served as the executive vice president. We sat down with Amy to learn more about her background, what advice she has for others in leadership positions, and why she decided to uproot her life in Colorado to spread freedom in the Tar Heel State.
Amy: On August 9, 2018 I had a serious bike accident—the type of accident that people normally don’t walk away from. I was going almost 30 miles per hour when my front tire seized up and I dived into the pavement. My last thought before hitting the ground was: “This is not going to end well for me.” I was fortunate, however, and walked away with a full recovery.
The accident changed my perspective on things. I realized I have more to offer. When this opportunity with the Foundation came up, I thought of the old saying “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” I decided to go to a new state, learn everything I could about it, and get involved with some great people. The mission of freedom is so much larger than just me or my state, and I have the opportunity to expand it in North Carolina.
Amy: North Carolina and the John Locke Foundation are a case study for a successful think tank partnering with like-minded allies and seizing on a moment in time. For the past two decades, the Foundation has been laying out policy recommendations that improve North Carolinians’ lives. Starting in 2010, courageous policymakers decided it was time to implement those suggestions. The result? A flat income tax that has broadened the base, a dramatically lower corporate income tax, a state budget that is limited to rate of inflation plus population, and regulatory reform that now requires sunset review of state agencies and regulations.
There’s a great story to tell from a very humble staff that’s worked tirelessly to conduct research and advance these meaningful policy reforms. I get to travel throughout the state and connect the dots for people.
Amy: To continue to make North Carolina first in freedom and the John Locke Foundation first in North Carolina. The organization has accomplished so much, but our work certainly isn’t done.
Amy: In addition to tax and regulatory reform, the Foundation has been a key player in educational choice. One in five North Carolina students is exercising some form of school choice. At a Civitas Institute event in January, I met Heidi Gomez, a single mom who works multiple jobs to send her children to schools that best fit their needs. Heidi is able to do this thanks to North Carolina’s opportunity scholarship program, which provides tuition assistance so children can attend nonpublic schools. The Foundation has worked for years educating North Carolinians on the benefits of allowing parents to choose the education that best suits their children’s needs. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of an organization that supports policies that help people like Heidi live the American dream.
Amy: Energy policy. There are places in the world where children living without electricity find a lit parking lot at night so they can learn how to read. In the United States, if we can provide enough energy to power our economy at an affordable level, and export some of it to other countries that may need it, we raise the quality of life—not just for Americans, but for people throughout the world.
I once attended an Arthur Brooks event where he asked: “What keeps you up at night?” For him it was global poverty. For me it was a woman named Sharon Garcia from Pueblo, Colorado. Sharon and her family sometimes have to turn the power off because Colorado policies have driven up their electricity costs. The Washington Post described her as having a depression-era obsessiveness with electricity. This is a woman who’s trying to raise her kids without a government handout. I’m in the freedom movement so people like Sharon Garcia don’t have to be described this way because they can’t afford basic energy costs.
Amy: I would encourage everyone to read Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. It’s hard to argue with Catmull’s ability to inspire greatness in individuals and in teams. But overall, one of the most important things to do, especially as a leader, is to take your organization’s mission seriously—but not yourself seriously. We have the greatest jobs in the world. We get to advocate for policies that allow people to thrive and live the American dream. We should be having a ton of fun doing it.
Amy: I wouldn’t be here sitting here without State Policy Network. SPN is crucial at providing support and leadership development. If I had a question about something, I could always call SPN. The best thing SPN has done for me, however, is provide a peer network where I can bounce ideas off of like-minded people. There is nothing I value more than having one of my colleagues tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. SPN helps facilitate those honest relationships.