Introducing Daniel Erspamer, 2020 Buckley Award Winner
America’s Future is excited to introduce Daniel Erspamer as a 2020 Buckley Award winner. In the span of just three years, Daniel has substantially and strategically grown the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, Louisiana’s free-market think tank, into an impactful and inspirational state-based organization.
Through Daniel’s leadership, this growth includes, “a litigation center, leadership academy, and building freedom infrastructure in the state. He dedicates his limited free time to working with other state based groups to grow their impact and has been a friend and leader to many young CEOS,” his nominator writes.
On the importance of the leadership academy, one of the selection committee writes, “The Academy’s purpose is to educate and connect emerging and experienced leaders in Louisiana, both in the public and private sectors. The program has the potential to help grow the freedom infrastructure in the state, especially for young adults and rising leaders.”
For his impactful strategic vision and successful leadership, Daniel has won an award for “Significantly contributing to the advancement or understanding of the ideas of a free society.”
Get to know Daniel!
1. What moment or opportunity in your life do you believe played the largest part in getting you to where you are today?
Looking back, one could identify a number of important moments in life. However, I think the decision to attend Tulane likely had the biggest impact. During my time at Tulane, I fell in love with New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, got deeply involved in the freedom movement, honed fundraising and policy skills, and got engaged to my lovely bride. All of those things have played out to great effect in the last 20 years.
2. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career so far?
I think we’re right in the middle of it, honestly. This year we’ve faced a global pandemic, a global energy market crash, six hurricanes, massive unemployment, great social unrest, and a contentious national election. In the middle of all this, of course, our four rambunctious kids were all of a sudden learning from home and team members were dealing with all sorts of personal challenges. And yet, the show must go on: tremendous opportunity hidden amid the tragedy and challenge for our solutions, money that still needs to be raised, and vision that still needs to be cast.
3. What piece of work or accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of playing an early role in helping to replicate and deploy a state-based freedom infrastructure model. Working alongside smart and talented leaders and core investors, I’ve had the opportunity to test and learn and build organizations and capacities in a dozen states around the country. All of that informed the work we’re doing here in Louisiana to change the culture and build a durable freedom majority.
4. What inspired the above work or accomplishment?
Smart people and dedicated investors who were not interested in conducting “business as usual” and who were not satisfied with just losing a little more slowly. Instead, these leaders were interested in winning and holding those wins over the long term so that ultimately we could persuade future generations that freedom is the best pathway to opportunity for everyone.
5. In your words, what motivates your belief in freedom?
Freedom means opportunity and human flourishing. Our lives’ work is about removing obstacles to flourishing and supporting policies that allow everyone to pursue the promise of the American dream. It’s not just about my kids and (hopefully) future grandkids, though I care about them a lot. It’s about everyone in this generation and the next. And, the only way we create a better life for them is advancing freedom.
6. What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing America today?
Too few people truly understand and believe that freedom and free enterprise are the best guarantors of opportunity and human flourishing. As a result, we have systems that trap too many people in cycles of dependency and deny people the dignity of work and the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families.
7. What is the next big goal or project you’re working on? How can the AF community help?
Working together with leaders in Georgia and Texas, we aim to create and advance a free-market anti-poverty agenda. This is among the great challenges of our generation and has an impact on areas from education to licensure to criminal justice to social safety nets. Government puts far too many barriers between individuals and work, and making progress toward solving these challenges means removing barriers and making the case for human flourishing. Ultimately this is a major undertaking that will require action across states and at the federal level. All of the AF community can be involved in making this vision a reality.
8. What advice do you have for those who want to advance liberty and make a difference in our society?
Learn how to love raising money. I came up the ranks in our movement on the development and strategic partnerships side. Our investors and donors are the smartest, most committed, most patriotic, and most interesting people in the country, and I’ve learned so much from them over the years. Leading an organization or building a movement requires resources; as Morton Blackwell says, “you can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent.” Even more than that, these men and women are amazing partners in our work. A lot of people look at fundraising as a task that just “must be done.” I love it. It’s vision, it’s relationships, it’s overcoming obstacles, it’s persistence, and, most of all, it’s incredibly tangible and real. And success means big wins and big advancements for the cause.
9. We’re assuming you’re working from home a lot these days, but what does a typical day “at the office” look like for you?
One of the best things about my job is that there’s not a typical day. I spend my time talking with and working alongside our investors and partners, doing radio or other media interviews, engaging with our Pelican Institute team members on strategy, writing, and answering and/or forwarding lots of emails.
10. Hobbies/side gigs/secret skills no one knows about? Any new quarantine-induced hobbies that you’ve picked up?
I’ve long had a love and admiration for the great Dolly Parton. From her music to her business acumen to her sharp tongue…and everything else that is Dolly, she is a true American hero. My hobby is persuading others of her greatness and expanding the Dolly fan club. She’s great!
11. What are you watching on Netflix/Amazon/Hulu right now?
Season 4 of The Crown.
12. There’s been a lot of negativity out there this year. What has been the best part of 2020 for you?
My 9-year old son’s birthday fell on Fat Tuesday prior to The Covid. He caught several Zulu coconuts, and we all had an amazing day together.
Hot takes with Daniel:
Brewed coffee or latte/mocha/etc.? Brewed coffee
Cat or dog? Dog
Android or Apple? BLACKBERRY! (yes, I still have one)
Email, GChat or Slack? Email
Paper book or Kindle? Kindle
Wine or beer? Bourbon. Wine second. 😊
Hamilton, Jefferson, or Douglass? Jefferson
Uber or Lyft? Lyft
Favorite band? Cowboy Mouth
Home office or work from the couch? Mix it up – go back and forth.
Pizza or tacos? Pizza
Daniel Erspamer is the Chief Executive Officer of The Pelican Institute, having been appointed in May of 2017. Prior to joining the Pelican Institute, Daniel served as Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at State Policy Network, the service organization for America’s free-market, state-based think tanks, of which the Pelican Institute is an affiliate member. Prior to that, he served a variety of leadership and development roles at the national office of Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation. He received a B.A., with honors, in Political Economy and Communication from Tulane University. Daniel and his wife, Emily (a graduate of Tulane University School of Law), have four children and reside in New Orleans.