A pretty good run

Plus, an opportunity to dig deeper and wider.

As I write in December, I’ve been president of American Experiment for more than twenty-five years. Given that I originally assumed I would be purged after five or ten years by some cabal convinced I wasn’t ideologically pure enough – or perhaps too pure – it’s been a pretty good run.

But given that my old friend and colleague John Hinderaker is the Center’s new president, having taken office in January, it’s not false modesty on my part when I predict we will race even faster and better in years coming. He’s that talented and energetic, as witness his double duty as a distinguished lawyer in town as well as a Power Line cofounder and fount. In fact, the excitement and boost of energy propelling American Experiment right now matches any moment in our history, save perhaps the time Lady Thatcher and I sang “God Save the Queen” and “The Star Spangled Banner” together at our 1997 Annual Dinner. It was the most goose-bumping duet I’ll ever be part of, sublimely accompanied as we were by a nearly 2,300-member chorus at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

I will not get overly nostalgic here mainly because I’m not going anywhere, although I have given up my corner office overlooking scenic I-394. Without getting too deep in the organizational weeds, when John was selected a couple of months ago it was to be as Executive Director, albeit with CEO responsibilities, and I would keep the title of “President.” This, even though I have not had CEO responsibilities for more than a decade, as the first nearly fifteen years of them, when combined with my policy work, just about did me in. The combination didn’t serve the institution well either.

At the risk of succumbing even deeper in the weeds, most managerial heavy lifting since then has been shouldered by Chairs of the Board of Directors, Dwight Tostenson as Chief Financial Officer, and over the last four years, by Kim Crockett as Executive Vice President. All this led to my recognizing it would be confusing if John were to lead the show while I retained the more exalted title. So I suggested that he be named “President” and I would be more than pleased to be “Founder and American Experiment Senior Fellow.”

And that is why, ladies and gentlemen, John now has the (comparatively) best view in the office.

So what will I be working on with my new title? Mostly the same issues I’ve been researching and writing about in recent years, but free to dig even deeper and wider now, as John’s coming aboard does free me of some chores. Not that fund-raising is one of the excluded ones, as I will continue working closely with our superb development team of Kristen Sheehan and Samantha Peterson in keeping our doors open in the first place.

When it comes to strengthening education, my focus will remain on expanding educational freedom, with my chairmanship of Opportunity for All Kids (OAK) reinforcing this work. Do I believe we may have a school choice victory or two earlier than some people believe possible? Yes, I do.

I also will continue spending time on how well education in Minnesota is performing, saluting the good things going on but also citing how we’re often not doing nearly well enough. This is the case not just in regard to achievement gaps, but also how K-12 education in Minnesota stacks up when compared to educational achievement in other places, including other nations.

In terms of strengthening families and marriage, my current emphasis is on doing so by finding ways of taking greater advantage of our religious traditions, institutions, and leaders. Elsewhere in this magazine there are several pages of excerpts from a new paper of mine that may have been released by the time you read this. Can America’s Religious Traditions Strengthen Marriage? will be disseminated broadly. And if you are a member of a religious institution that might be interested in my speaking, suffice it to say I’ll be there, come heck or high water.

My work in these two areas is complementary, as there is no way, for example, enough men will ever become “marriageable” in the eyes of properly discerning women unless they do a lot better in school, equipping themselves for good jobs, than is currently the case.

Nostalgia not entirely aside, I’m quick these days to think about American Experiment’s earliest years, when I worked closely with Peter Bell, Kathy Kersten, Mark Larson, Ron Eibensteiner, Steve Young, and many others in creating what many people thought a geographical contradiction in terms: A conservative and free market think tank in Minnesota. In a fine piece of symbolic trivia, we held our very first board meeting on the very evening of Ronald Reagan’s farewell address in January 1989. And yes, we stopped talking to watch it.

Reverting back to that evening twenty-seven years ago (which turned out to be fourteen months before the Center was financially able to actuallyopen up) spotlights the fact that I have held the title of “President” for more than a quarter century. I’m hard-pressed to think of any organization that should have any one person as its principal face for so long, no matter how good looking his mother thinks it is.

So suffice it to say again, the moment is right for me to change seats and windows in an organization I’m massively proud to have built – along with a battalion of directors, staffers, senior fellows, interns, and generous donors – over what has turned out to be a surprisingly, but always gratefully satisfying long time.