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New 'free-market think tank' to open in Idaho

“We don’t have an agenda other than the free market.… I think it’s time to bring some adults into the room and have a debate.”
Credit: Mountain States Policy Center
Chris Cargill

BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

Idaho will get a new “free-market think tank” in October, but it’s promising not to engage in the tactics of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the current Idaho group that’s used that descriptor.

Ken Dey, chairman of the board of the new Mountain States Policy Center, said, “We don’t have an agenda other than the free market. … I think it’s time to bring some adults into the room and have a debate.”

Chris Cargill, who has been Eastern Washington director for the Washington Policy Center for 13 years and is also a city councilman in Liberty Lake, Washington, will be the president and CEO of the new center, which Cargill described as a “spinoff” of the Washington Policy Center. It will be based in Idaho, with offices in Boise and Coeur d’Alene, and also will operate in Eastern Washington, Montana and Wyoming.

The group, a 501c3 educational nonprofit, plans to research policy issues in its region and provide the analyses to lawmakers, the news media and the public. Topics will include education and school choice, taxes and state budgets, business, health care, the environment, agriculture, transportation, small business, and transparency.

It’s been in the works since 2019, Cargill said. “We got together with a group of key folks … to discuss whether Idaho needed a more respected free-market think tank that could really start looking at and advance ideas and look at policy and analyze policy from a free-market perspective,” he said.

Unlike the IFF, Cargill said the new group won’t rate bills and legislators for how closely they match its agenda.

“As a 501c3, we can’t, nor do we want to do that,” Dey said.

Cargill said the new center also won’t have political affiliates that do campaigning and run ads. It won’t actively lobby, instead offering testimony only when legislators request it, and won’t get involved in social-media name-calling.

Also, unlike the IFF, it won’t refuse to talk to the news media.

Cargill said, “I’m a former media guy.” He worked at KXLY-TV in Spokane for 10 years.

Dey, director of government and public affairs at J.R. Simplot Co., said, “We see a value in talking about free-market policies.”

He joins eight other initial board members: Co-founders Becky Funk of Coeur d’Alene and Bill Baldwin of Hayden; Boise businessman John S. Otter; former state Rep. Dean Haagenson, R-Coeur d’Alene; Don Stafford of Spokane; Julie Shiflett of Coeur d’Alene; Oscar Evans of Homedale; and Bonnie Quinn Clausen of Spokane.

Baldwin and Otter are both former chairmen of the Washington Policy Center, which does similar work in the state of Washington.

Cargill stressed, “As a 501c3, we are not going to be political. We’re not going to have a C-4 arm. We are not going to be endorsing candidates or running ads against candidates.”

The group plans to publish a quarterly magazine for its members starting in January. It will hold events and publish its research regularly on its website. It will be staffed by Cargill and a contracted five-person research team. He said the team is already working on two analyses: One of the school funding initiative on the November ballot, focused in part on showing that increased funding doesn’t necessarily bring better results; and one on a proposal several states have adopted to require stickers on gas pumps to notify customers how much of the price of gas goes to state and federal taxes. The group won’t propose legislation, Cargill said, just ideas.

The Mountain States Policy Center describes its mission as to “empower individuals to succeed through non-partisan, quality research that promotes free enterprise, individual liberty and limited government.”

The group has raised nearly $400,000 thus far, Cargill said. While, like the IFF, it declines to reveal its funding sources, Dey said its board members are among its major contributors.

It plans kick off events in Boise and Coeur d’Alene in early October.

Said Cargill, “We want to add another voice to the political and policy debate.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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