By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
Last week’s Netroots Nation gathering was billed as a “giant family reunion for the left.” The familial atmosphere generated by the progressive activists included one state network leader’s directive to “take down” conservative state policy networks nationwide.
Arshad Hasan, who moderated a break-out session called “Stink Tanks in Your State: Inside the State Policy Network,” called on attendees to attack state policy groups from Michigan’s Mackinac Center to Vermont’s own Ethan Allen Institute.
“The next step for us is to take down this network of institutions that are state-based in each and every one of our states,” Hasan said.
“Your Heartland Institute, your Mackinac Institute and my state’s Ethan Allen Institute, although they are ultra-conservative and lead us to a set of policies that would not be passed in a state as liberal as Vermont, pitch themselves as third-party validators — ‘Hey, we’re just here for research, and we want to help you figure out the best public policy.’”
Hasan, whose ProgressNow organization oversees left wing state advocacy groups in 22 states, seeks a network of policy groups that promote progressive ideas and causes. While Hasan railed against the money donated to conservative groups, the combined annual contributions to ProgressNow’s 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) units in 2012 totaled a remarkable $3,660,155.
The cardinal sin of state policy groups like Mackinac Center and the Ethan Allen Institute, as gleaned from Hasan’s comments, appears to be that they are effective. Hasan, an activist living in Vermont, was especially impressed with the Ethan Allen Institute.
“It’s two-to-one Democratic in (Vermont’s) state Legislature … yet because we have to deal with the Ethan Allen Institute — a member of SPN (State Policy Network) — we can’t achieve our policy objectives as progressives, because they do an excellent job,” he said.
“So the state that elects a socialist for U.S. senator cannot get paid sick leave passed. The state that believes ‘Hey, we all have an obligation to each other, including in our health care, can’t pass a tax on soda.”
Hasan leveled a similar charge of effectiveness against Michigan’s Mackinac Center.
“The Mackinac Institute is not some small group of kooks who’ve come up with this right-wing set of theories. They are a powerful, unfortunately well-respected group of policy writers and lobbyists who’ve radically changed this formerly bright blue, formerly very wealthy, formerly Democratic state into this sci-fi dystopia.”
Dan Armstrong, marketing and communications team leader at the Mackinac Center, told Vermont Watchdog he was pleased by his group’s notoriety at this year’s Netroots Nation.
“We’re flattered that we were so prominent in a presentation where they see defenders of liberty as a threat to their objectives. It speaks to our effectiveness of being able to influence public policy toward freedom rather than toward force or compulsion,” he said.
When asked which Mackinac-endorsed policies rankle Hasan and other progressives, Armstrong cited school choice, an increasingly popular system in many states that allows parents to choose their kids’ schools, whether a public school, a charter school, a private school or a home school.
“(Progressives) like the protection of keeping people in the same cookie-cutter system that doesn’t thrive on choice and options and freedom. We believe the dollars should follow the students,” he said.
Armstrong cited right to work as another policy that upsets progressives.
“All right to work does is make sure you cannot be fired for not financially supporting a labor union. …Before right to work (was law in Michigan), probably the fastest way to be fired as a public school teacher or other person represented by a union was to not pay union dues.”
“Nowadays it’s not a requirement to pay dues as a condition of employment. (But) people who don’t like freedom go after that because they enjoyed that monopoly privilege — that they could force people to pay them.”
Hasan’s call to take down state policy groups nationwide is no idle threat. Netroots attracts and thousands of activists each year and spawns dozens of nonprofit advocacy groups. Moreover, left-wing activists have demonstrated their organizing muscle in targeting the king of the state policy groups, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, told Vermont Watchdog that his group is taking note of Hasan’s agenda.
“If you listen to the presentation, the way they (presently) go after ALEC is the model that they want to use against the State Policy Network,” he said.
“They don’t want to engage on the issues, and they don’t want to have an honest dialogue. It’s pretty infantile to have a temper tantrum that basically says if we can’t beat you we’re going to take you down.”
When asked if the Ethan Allen Institute had been a target of coordinated political attacks in the past, he replied, “We’ve had people call us our share of names, but I’ve never seen anybody be this hostile to say that you don’t have a right to exist.”
Armstrong said Hasan’s organization is bent on censorship.
“They want to silence us. They do not want to take us on in a debate of reasonable arguments. So the technique is to simply try to silence and discredit, and to try to get other people to not listen to our message or research and analysis.”
Asked if Hasan’s goal to take down state policy groups implied legal threats or intimidation, Armstrong replied, “I don’t know how they would come against us legally, but I don’t think they would rule it out.”
Contact Bruce Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org