Freedom wins victories in State Capitols
Published August 31, 2023
By John Hood
Right-of-center politicians, activists, and intellectuals are currently engaged in a vigorous debate about their movement’s present condition and future prospects.
Self-styled National Conservatives, for example, argue that the federal government should play a greater role in the economy, using protective tariffs and taxpayer subsidies to aid politically favored industries. By contrast, Freedom Conservatives embrace free trade, fiscal restraint, and devolving power from Washington to states, localities, families, and private associations. The two groups also disagree about such issues as academic freedom, immigration, and the proper relationship of church and state.
The contest between NatCons and FreeCons will be a fateful one, not just for the Right but for the country as a whole. As a proud FreeCon, I make no bones about which conception of conservatism I believe can achieve a governing majority and thus make real headway against America’s many challenges.
But when I look beyond the political chatter on Capitol Hill and national news networks, I see a thriving conservative movement that has already made freedom a core principle — and is, as a consequence, winning big victories in state capitals across the country.
I’m in Chicago this week for the annual meeting of State Policy Network, for which I’m proud to serve as a board member. The mission of SPN is to “catalyze thriving, durable freedom movements in every state.” We’ve been doing just that more than three decades.
Want to hear about some of our latest successes?
In New Hampshire, pro-freedom activists and their legislative allies have just repealed occupational–licensing laws that hurt consumers and stymied the upward mobility of low-income workers. In Wisconsin, pro-freedom litigators just forced one of the state’s largest school districts to release public records. In Texas and Idaho, pro-freedom lawmakers just earmarked budget surpluses to fund property-tax relief in dozens of localities.
In Ohio, policymakers enacted a new state budget that reformed its income tax and vastly expanded parental choice and educational freedom. On the past couple of years, other states such as Florida, West Virginia, Iowa, Arkansas, Utah, Indiana, and Arizona have expanded their own school-choice programs to make all or nearly all households eligible.
Will North Carolina be next? That seems likely when state lawmakers enact a new budget in the coming days. The Tar Heel State has become a national leader on many fronts, thanks to wise leadership in the General Assembly and the effectiveness of our network of pro-freedom organizations, including the John Locke Foundation. We’ve reformed our regulatory and tax systems. And North Carolina’s new energy policy serves the interest of customers by placing a high priority on affordability and reliability.
On one key issue, however, our immediate neighbor leap-frogged us this year. South Carolina just enacted a law that will phase out its certificate-of-need system for hospitals. By 2027, they’ll no longer have to get a permission slip from state commissars to build new facilities or add new services.
Alas, here in North Carolina we have only nibbled around the edges of our costly CON regime. In Guilford County, the state said yes in July to a proposal from Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist to build a new hospital in northwest Greensboro. A competitor, Cone Health, has filed an appeal to block the project. A similar fight is coming in Wake County, where Duke Health, UNC Health, and WakeMed Health & Hospitals have each filed an application to supply the 44 new beds state government has determined the county needs.
This is a preposterous and indefensible way to manage our health care system. Providers should be free to make their own investments as they see fit. Patients and their fiscal agents should be free to decide how and where to obtain medical services.
That’s how we FreeCons see it, anyway. As I and some 1,600 of my closest friends here in the Windy City celebrate our movement’s latest policy victories, we’re also looking ahead to our next campaigns for freedom. We intend to win them.