December 9, 2021


Liberty Lovers Should Be More Involved in State & Local Policy

By: Amanda Kieffer

All liberty-minded people should re-evaluate their infatuation with the Nation’s Capital and shift their focus to state and local policy. 

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a time when I looked starry-eyed upon Washington D.C. In the Fall of 2015, full of enthusiasm and equipped with a professional wardrobe financed by my mother (bless her), I moved to a neighborhood only blocks from Capitol Hill for an internship at the Heritage Foundation. I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to “make an impact” on the national level. 

If that sounds naive and idealistic, it’s because it was. Suffice it to say, I had a great experience — I saw famous politicians speak, attended conferences, and even opened the door for Bernie Sanders one time at my favorite convenience store — but months later, I left D.C. convinced that conservatives and libertarians should focus their sights where they could actually make a difference; on state and local level. That conviction has only strengthened in the years since. 

As Louis Demani Jones has argued before, those closest to a problem are often the ones best suited to solve it. He also points out that many of the problems we think are national are actually local. Take, for example, the Clean Electricity Performance Plan (part of the controversial reconciliation bill). Senator Manchin played a central role in that debate because he fought to represent his home state of West Virginia — a state that would be directly and negatively impacted by the CEPP.  

Our nation isn’t homogeneous, we all suffer from different problems and constraints. Each state citizenry is different. Even local communities within states express a lot of variety. This means that when working toward common solutions we have to better understand everyone’s roots.

Moreover, individuals and small groups can have much greater impact at the state level and local policy. I had the distinct feeling while interning in D.C. that, no matter what issue I worked on, I was banging my head against a brick wall. In contrast, since joining the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, I have had the incredible pleasure of seeing how my own actions have made a meaningful and lasting impact in the Mountain State. 

This year I was able to participate in the efforts that brought the Hope Scholarship— the nation’s broadest education savings account program — to West Virginia. We estimate that 93% of students in the state will now be able to choose an education environment that best fits their needs. This is a massive realignment of priorities in West Virginia’s education system, and it has served as a lighthouse for other states, guiding them toward a future that funds students instead of systems. 

And that’s not the only impact we’ve had as an organization. In 6 years, Cardinal has helped to bring Right to Work to a state whose cultural identity is rooted in unionism. We helped to bring charter schools and the concepts of public and private school choice to West Virginia. We also worked to expand telemedicine access. These are all significant policy wins that leave a positive, lasting impact on the lives of Mountaineers. 

During my time at Cardinal, I have watched my colleagues in other states make similar progress. The folks at Texas Public Policy Foundation created and helped pass the Conservative Texas Budget, which is quickly becoming a national model for other states to emulate. The Montana legislature passed a proposal by the Frontier Institute to repeal the state’s certificate of need laws. Libertas Institute in Utah advocated for the nation’s first all-inclusive regulatory sandbox — recognized by the State Policy Network as this year’s Biggest Win for Freedom. These varied wins across the nation show the power of focusing on state and local solutions.

You may be wondering how you can get involved in state and local policy work. Start by finding your home state’s free-market think tank. The State Policy Network has a membership directory that can help you. You may be able to apply for jobs at those organizations or just reach out to volunteer. 

If you want to go even more local, you can reach out to the folks at Better Cities Project. They are working to bring free-market policies to the municipal level and help individual communities thrive. 

Finally, get involved with America’s Future. Whether you join the national membership, a city chapter, or a hub, AF is geared toward equipping you to make an impact in your community. AF offers training to those interested in policy work, but it also provides opportunities for those with non-policy careers to connect with fellow liberty lovers and get involved in their communities in a variety of ways.

There are so many ways to get involved in states and local communities. It’s time we shifted our focus away from polarizing national politics and back to our homes, where we can make a real difference in the lives of those around us.