Leading the Way

State Policy Network Annual Meeting

Mackinac Center Welcomes
1,000 Freedom Lovers to Michigan

Vincent VernuccioThe State Policy Network is a national organization that provides support and training to free market think tanks like the Mackinac Center. Every year, it hosts a meeting for freedom lovers from all 50 states to come together and exchange ideas, celebrate successes and strengthen weaknesses.

SPN first hosted its annual meeting in Traverse City in 1993, with only a dozen participants. At this year’s meeting in Grand Rapids, hosted by the Mackinac Center, SPN had another first: over 1,000 participants.

As the host organization, Mackinac Center experts gave presentations on numerous panels, received countless accolades from other organizations and members of the movement and capped one night of the conference by throwing a Michigan-themed party for attendees at the beautiful Meijer Gardens. Read on for more about what we achieved and learned at the annual meeting, held in late September and early October.

Mackinac Center Experts Share Expertise with National Audience

Geneva Ruppert

The Mackinac Center was thrilled to see several of its leaders on panels throughout the annual meeting.

President Joseph Lehman sat on a panel titled “The Board-CEO Relationship in High Performing Organizations.” 

Vice President for Legal Affairs Patrick Wright discussed his experience representing Mackinac Center Legal Foundation clients for the panel “How Policy Changes Lives.”

F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy, spoke on a panel that included Rebecca Friedrichs, the main plaintiff in next year’s major Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (read more below). The panel, “Labor Unions in the Modern Workplace,” covered some themes from Vernuccio’s study on unionism in the 21st century, released earlier this year.

Andrew Koehlinger, the project director of the Mackinac Center’s legislative watchdog app, VoteSpotter, spoke on “Public Policy in a Mobile-First World,” discussing the exciting capabilities and future of VoteSpotter and similar government transparency apps.

Casting Our Message to Connect With the Next Generation

Anne Schieber

Whenever I speak to a group of people, I try to gauge my audience to see if I’m making a connection. Seeing people doze off is never a good sign. That is why I so much appreciated being one of 12 semifinalists in the second annual “Great Communicators Tournament,” presented at SPN and sponsored by Think Freely Media. The tournament got us wonks to make the moral case for a policy argument and gear it to a younger crowd with wide-ranging political ideologies and an attention span of let’s say, Twitter.

In my case, I was given a 130-page policy brief and asked to turn it into a 4-minute oration worthy of Cicero. For me, however, it was not to be, as I did not advance to the finals. But I learned a great deal, such as that a garden analogy might be lost on millennials.  I will try again next year, encouraged by the words of Henry Ford: “Failure is the only opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Michigan Team Becomes “Champions of Policy”

Jack McHugh

An ad hoc Michigan team took the prize in a “Champions of Policy” competition. Three other teams competed from the nearly 1,000 public policy professionals attending. Judges came from the same rich pool.

Teams had to devise a policy to increase economic growth and employment in an imaginary state, and show how they would persuade people that it’s a good idea. Extra points were added for realism, and the final results were close.

The Michigan team included:

Wendy Day, a former school board member who placed third in the nationwide “Great Communicators” contest.

Former state representative Leon Drolet, who, among other things, has made sure that a legislatively initiated constitutional amendment to reform eminent domain laws really did what it promised.

Jack McHugh, editor of the Mackinac Center’s MichiganVotes.org, which offers people nearly 50,000 descriptions of bills and votes in Michigan Legislature over a 15-year period.

SPN liberty fellow Matt Faherty, who recently earned a degree in history and economics from the University of Chicago, coached the team on which costs and benefits of the proposed policy were important to millennials.

Rebecca Friedrichs Thanks SPN Groups for Support

Patrick Wright

Patrick WrightNext year’s blockbuster case at the U.S. Supreme Court will likely be Friedrichs v. California Teachers, which has significant implications for worker freedom. The Center for Individual Rights filed the lawsuit on behalf of ten California public school teachers. The lead plaintiff in the case, Rebecca Friedrichs, took part in a number of panels at the annual meeting.

Many SPN groups have filed amicus briefs supporting her cause. The Mackinac Center filed two — one to aid in getting the Supreme Court to hear the case and a second on the merits. Friedrichs made it a point to track down and personally thank all the people who had written a brief on her behalf, and posed for numerous photos.

All her presentations were highly informative. But the highlight might have been when she; Terry Bowman, a UAW member instrumental in right-to-work’s passage; and Jennifer Parrish, a home-based day care provider who had been improperly unionized; shared their experiences. It was inspiring for all of us in the freedom movement to see such a group of courageous people on whose behalf we work every day.

More photos from this year's SPN Annual Meeting can be found in the printed version of Impact, as well as on Facebook.com/ StatePolicy.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said that Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman presented the Overton Award. He did not present that award.