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Outside the Beltway: Fighting for liberty and free markets from America's Heartland

April 18, 2019

The Heartlander, Spring 2019

Changing the hearts and minds of the American people is never easy. Challenging our elected officials to choose freedom is even more difficult. But doing it all in 50 state capitols and in Washington, DC? Now, that is a herculean task, one that The Heartland Institute has been engaged in for more than 30 years. 

As you know, several conservative think tanks and advocacy groups write and speak regularly about federalism. Plenty of national libertarian groups stress the importance of state sovereignty. Many free-market groups pledge allegiance to America’s constitutional framework of federal and state powers, and most of these Heartland allies do very good work.

However, almost all of these organizations are located in the Washington Beltway. And every day, they focus on challenging liberals and the federal government’s massive bureacracy in Congress, the media, and courts. No doubt, these battles are critically important, and that’s why Heartland is in the middle of so many of them. We are leading the way on climate realism, introducing school choice proposals, fighting for lower taxes and less spending, and promoting health care freedom because these fights matter. But when you live and work in the Washington bubble, you tend to forget about the rest of America, the so-called “flyover country.”

I know the tendency, the mindset, the “Swamp fever” that afflicts almost all of these people. When I attended graduate school in Washington, DC, there were times I’d just drive out of the city until I could see a John Deere tractor. It was a strong reminder for me, not only of my farm and family back home in rural Kansas, but that there is life (thankfully) outside the Beltway.

Fortunately, we at Heartland don’t have to leave the Swamp for a fresh take on American life. Our headquarters, our homes, and our hopes are in the heart of America, outside the deceptions of the Beltway, free from the trappings of big government power and control. And it shows in what we do, where we target our free-market firepower, and how we fight for freedom.

A few weeks ago, I visited the 17th largest energy-producing region of the world. No, I didn’t need a passport, a formal invitation from a head of state, nor a visit to customs. All I needed was a flight to North Dakota, where the jet-set Left dare not venture.

Despite alarmist claims that the world is running out of oil, natural gas, and coal; an eight-year crusade by the Obama administration against all U.S. fossil fuels; and billions of dollars from environmental radicals like Tom Steyer, George Soros, Al Gore, Michael Bloomberg, and the United Nations, North Dakota has managed to build a massive, powerful, highly efficient economy built on energy dominance. North Dakotans chose their path: an embrace of energy freedom, free markets, and
local innovation and
private investment in hydraulic fracturing. As a
result, in just the short span of one decade, North
Dakota soared from a sleepy state trying to survive to an economic powerhouse, literally fueling the nation. 

In my recent short visit to North Dakota, here’s what I saw: federalism lived out as our Founding Fathers intended. Far away from Washington’s army of bureaucrats, the people and politicians in North Dakota chose a different path than those on either coast. They took a chance on energy freedom and free markets, and although the decision wasn’t without risks and challenges, it is paying off.

And through it all, Heartland has been there, guiding and educating the state’s legislature and other policymakers, promoting and encouraging energy entrepreneurs, and fighting off, as best we could, the long, powerful arm of the leave-it-in-the-ground crowd of Washington and Hollywood elites. We are proud to support these state-level achievements, and we won’t ever apologize for them.

As a result of Heartland’s years of leadership, I was able to visit with the North Dakota governor, greet a former lieutenant governor, sit down with top legislative leaders in both chambers, talk up a half-dozen free-market issues, and drop off valuable information at the Public Service Commission—and all in just three hours. Now, that is success. That is access. And that is making a difference.

Okay, I can hear you now: “North Dakota. So what? Sure, North Dakotans produce more oil than the entire continent of Africa—and in an amazingly environmentally friendly manner, too. And yes, the North Dakotan economy is humming today. But hey, it’s North Dakota, and I’ve never even been there.”

And that’s what Heartland is all about. We have been there. We are there now. And we will continue to fight for freedom there. But we also are supporting freedom in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. And we are in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, and in many other states. In just the past few months alone, Heartland has been fighting for freedom on the ground in 14 separate states. 

In addition to these state-level successes, in just the past few weeks, we were called to help defend climate science in three hearings in the U.S. Congress, promoted sensible free-market policies and personnel at the U.S. Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, and encouraged the White House and other departments to adopt Food and Drug Administration reform and health care freedom. 

I often get asked: “Tim, what’s the best part of serving as president of The Heartland Institute?” That’s pretty simple: WINNING! And with our recent efforts on 50 state battlefields, plus the federal front, not a week seems to go by that we can’t claim another victory for freedom.

With The Heartland Institute on the move, socialism is on the run and freedom is on the rise. It reminds me of a short saying from the Huelskamp family farm back in Kansas: It’s harvest time. Now, more than ever, it’s time to push back against leftists’ socialist fantasies and to capitalize on America’s fervent desire for the hope that comes with opportunity, responsibility, and the eternal joy that is freedom. 

With your continued generous support and guided by our firm commitment to federalism, I pledge that Heartland will remain your national voice for liberty. Whether you are in North Dakota, Texas, on either coast, or in between, know that Heartland stands in the gap where few other liberty-minded groups dare to go fight for the American dream. It is what we do.

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Tim Huelskamp served as president of The Heartland Institute from 2017 to 2019.