Family Policy Councils: The Real Grass Roots Needed for the Next Conservative President



Policy Review

November & December 1996In the mid-nineties, Charmaine wrote a column for Policy Review magazine. One of her articles reviewed the Family Policy Councils. The FPCs are state based non-profits considered faith-based, cultural and economic conservatives.

A conservative president usually needs Ohio to win. And the embrace of the Family Policy Councils.

These state-based organizations work somewhat with the Family Research Council in DC and Focus on the Family in Colorado.

Originally published in 1996; and even more important today.

State Groups That Fight for Mom and Dad

by Charmaine Crouse Yoest

Rudy Gonzalez, a “cowboy poet” with a handlebar mustache and a home-on-the-range accent, strummed his guitar, then launched into a joke. The crowd relaxed into laughter as he regaled them with tall tales and folk wisdom.

This is the Idaho Family Forum’s annual summer fundraiser, the Spud Bake, where this group of moms and dads marks the end of summer by eating baked potatoes. Lots of them. Followed by spud-shaped ice cream.

But cowboy poetry soon gave way to public policy. U.S. Senator Larry Craig rose to address the group, and the question-and-answer session that followed was brisk and well informed. The Idaho Family Forum (IFF) and its supporters are dedicated to changing cultural trends that are undermining the stability of families — from no-fault divorce to teen pregnancy to chronic welfare dependency.

Led by executive director Dennis Mansfield, a former businessman, the IFF is part of a growing national movement of independent, state-based policy organizations called Family Policy Councils (FPCs). There are now more than 30 such organizations across the country, loosely affiliated by shared goals, common strategies, and mutual support. In order to win the ears of lawmakers, the media, and academics, they prefer research over rallies and education over activism.

Continue reading at the jump


Thank you (foot)notes:

Full Disclosure: Your Business Blogger served on the Board of Directors for The Family Foundation, a Family Policy Council in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“We are involved in an intellectually muscular and principled persuasion – almost like miniature Crossfires across the nation,” says Mansfield. “We’re not going to back down from anybody but we’re going to use principled persuasion. We believe the weight of the facts wins the day.”

Like other FPC leaders, Mansfield is a familiar sight in the halls of his state capitol. But there’s more to the movement than old – fashioned buttonholing. Legislative battles are really the “outworking of… intellectual battles,” says Matt Daniels, the executive director of the Massachusetts Family Institute. That means fighting those battles at both the popular and academic levels – from public – service announcements about the benefits of fatherhood to thick policy papers on the social consequences of divorce.

Steve Knudsen, the director of state and local affairs at the Family Research Council, in Washington, D.C., says that the FPCs exemplify the Jeffersonian ideal of the states as “laboratories of democracy.” Now, in the era of devolution–the shifting of resources and responsibility out of Washington–they are strategically placed.

“Our focus is on the long term,” says Gary Palmer, the executive director of the Alabama Family Alliance. “We work on building relationships with policy-makers. We want to be the ones they turn to when they need accurate, reliable information.” In more and more states around the country, FPCs and their staff are playing precisely that role. They advise governors and help craft legislation, they appear on talk shows and write syndicated columns, and they recruit the business and professional community as board members and supporters.

[Gary Palmer is still very active — I recently crossed paths with him in Your Nation’s Capital, working to make the world a better place.}

In the last decade, 25 new family policy councils have been established, and have been deeply involved in some of their states’ most significant battles over policy. The following are a few of their success stories:

Faulting No-Fault Divorce

With 14 full-time staff and a budget of $1.3 million, the Michigan Family Forum is a leader among the FPCs. Its director is Randy Hekman, a former family-court judge with 12 children of his own. MFF laid the groundwork for divorce reform in Michigan in 1995, helping to ignite a similar reform revolution in states across the nation. In the fall, communications director Brian Willats drafted a report called “Breaking Up is Easy To Do: A Look at No-Fault Divorce in the State of Michigan.” Filled with research documenting the consequences of family breakdown, it called for a return to the traditional fault system of divorce, except in cases of mutual consent in which minor children are not involved. Perhaps most important, the report called for a “children first” attitude in divorce considerations.

The report was released at a legislative breakfast later that year and produced headlines across the state. State Representative Jessie Dalman then introduced divorce-reform legislation that incorporated the forum’s recommendations. The bill became national news: “Michigan could set off a divorce counterrevolution,” said the Wall Street Journal. Dalman’s bill was noted by the New York Times, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Although the bill failed this year by a single vote, the Michigan Family Forum helped set the terms of what is now a national debate.

Ads for Dads

The voice is a dead giveaway. With that familiar, dynamic, raspy Kempian voice, Jeff Kemp couldn’t escape identification as the son of the Republican vice presidential nominee if he wanted to. Kemp has followed his father — first into professional football, and now into politics — but Jeff has put his own imprimatur on political activism since taking the helm of the Washington Family Council (WFC), an organization with eight full-time employees and a budget of $600,000.

Before helping his father campaign, Kemp was busy barnstorming the state promoting the WFC’s Fatherhood Initiative. Patterned on the National Fatherhood Initiative, the WFC’s effort began with a statewide media barrage about the virtues of being a father. “We wanted to raise the bar for fatherhood,” explains Randy Hicks, the WFC’s associate director. They ran well-received radio ads produced by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and print ads created by the Family Research Council. Both were tailored to address Washington state concerns. ABC’s TV affiliate in Seattle soon invited Kemp to join a panel discussion with David Blankenhorn, a leading authority on fatherhood and the author of Fatherless America.

So far, there is no legislative component to the initiative, but the campaign has had far-reaching results. The TV station was flooded with more than 500 calls — more than it had ever received for any program. WFC prepared “fatherhood packets” — information about how to strengthen the vital role of fathers in their families — for these callers. The station then asked the WFC to produce a public-service announcement on fatherhood.

Soon Kemp and Hicks were traveling the state, meeting with managers of television stations to promote the PSA. Eventually every network affiliate in the state (at least a dozen stations) ran the ad. One station alone donated more than $250,000 in air time; a Seattle station was running the ad four times a day.

Attacking Fluffy Education

The Family Foundation in Lexington, Kentucky, has established itself as an effective voice for conservative pro-family values, particularly in education. Since 1990, with the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), education has been one of the state’s most controversial issues. The reason: The Kentucky education establishment used the Act to introduce outcome-based education and new tests without objective measures and to eliminate grades in primary schools. These “reforms” occurred without parental involvement and have been heralded by the national education establishment as a model reform effort.

[The Family Foundation of the Commonwealth of Kentucky should not be confused with the The Family Foundation of the Commonwealth of Virginia.]

The foundation launched the state’s most potent criticism of the reforms. It insisted that the legislation’s “Academic Expectations” component — a list of 57 goals that serve as academic standards–was “vague, non-academic, and unmeasurable.”

The foundation’s arsenal consisted of carefully crafted arguments — among them a pamphlet comparing the state goals with standards based on work by former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Policy analyst Martin Cothran produced a blizzard of material for parents and policy-makers. The Lexington Herald-Leader profiled Cothran, calling him the leader of the opposition. Soon, Kentuckians saw newspaper headlines that read “Proof that KERA works still lacking” and “Discontent with KERA growing.” In February, Governor Paul Patton established a task force to study whether the reforms were working.

Changing the law is the ultimate goal, but in the meantime, the foundation is happy to have changed the terms of the debate. “If all we had done was to change the law,” says executive director Kent Ostrander, “I would be afraid the results wouldn’t be long-term.”

Betting Against Gambling

Gary Palmer is another leader working behind the scenes to change his state. A former cost analyst for an engineering company, Palmer is an intense and compelling man with a thousand ideas — half of which, it seems, he’s on his way to achieving. In six years, he has built the Alabama Family Alliance into a $685,000 organization with a full-time staff of 10. “I believe in finding the best people and giving them the opportunity to excel,” he says. His group has been so effective that Governor Fob James picked off two of the Family Alliance’s top staffers. Palmer hires Ph.D.s for his policy slots and has a first-rate legal staff.

He uses them to great strategic effect. This year the alliance grappled with the gaming industry. Gambling is illegal in Alabama, and the state house of representatives, where all revenue bills must originate, does not favor legalization. So when gambling interests targeted Mobile for expansion this year, they backed a legalization bill written as if it were not a revenue bill, and then introduced it in the state senate.

Palmer did not organize any rallies or demonstrations. But he and his staff were ready. Working with a pro-family senator, the alliance helped draft a request for a legal ruling from the state attorney general on the admissibility of a “non-revenue” gambling bill in the senate. The alliance’s legal staff shared its extensive research on the case law with the attorney general, who then ruled that the legislation was a revenue bill and could not be introduced in the senate. It was quickly killed.

Policy analyst John Hill prepared a concise assessment of the economic and social costs of gambling. The report exposed state lotteries as a net loss for states using it to bring in revenue. As a result, the mayor of Mobile commissioned 41 local social-service agencies, including the American Red Cross and the United Way, to study the “social impact of gaming.”

The conclusion? Fifteen million dollars in extra social-service costs to the city. “An increase in problems and demand for services attributable to gambling abuse or addiction will adversely affect the quality of life in Mobile for all its residents,” the final report stated.

Family Policy Councils

Alabama — Alabama Family Alliance.

Gary Palmer

Arizona — Center for Arizona Policy. Helped pass a same-sex marriage ban, parental consent for abortion, and two bills restricting pornography. Coming initiatives: informed consent for abortion, divorce reform.

Len Munsil

Arkansas — Arkansas Family Council. Working on a 17-bill pro-family agenda for the new governor, including income tax indexed to inflation and popular election of school boards.

Jerry Cox

California — Capitol Resource Institute. Working on divorce reform, a fatherhood initiative, and a same-sex marriage ban.

Mike Bowman

Colorado — Rocky Mountain Family Council. Developed the “Marriage Project” to increase awareness of the effects of no-fault divorce, establish mentoring and counseling programs, and craft a legislative agenda.

Tom McMillen

Florida — Florida Family Council. Promoted fatherhood campaign; working on education, welfare, divorce reform.

Mark Merritt

Georgia — Georgia Family Council.

Gayle Swanburg

Idaho — Idaho Family Forum. Helped pass “defense of marriage” legislation.

Dennis Mansfield

Illinois — Illinois Family Institute. Working on state curriculum standards, a fatherhood initiative, and a law requiring parental involvement in a minor’s abortion.

Joe Clark

Indiana — Indiana Family Institute. Working on education, welfare, and divorce reform.

Bill Smith

Kansas — Kansas Family Research Institute. Developing public-service announcements extolling fatherhood; promotes abstinence-based sex-ed programs.

David Payne

Kentucky — The Family Foundation. (See article.)

Kent Ostrander

Maine — Christian Civic League. Helped defeat outcome-based education legislation. Working on parental-rights legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

Michael Heath

Massachusetts — Massachusetts Family Institute. Promotes divorce reform and parental rights, opposes euthanasia movement.

Matt Daniels

Michigan — Michigan Family Forum. (See article.)

Charlie Nunez at 517-374-1171.

Miinnesota — Minnesota Family Council. Promotes school choice and opposes campaigns to redefine family.

Tom Prichard

Mississippi — Mississippi Family Council. Working on charter-school legislation.

Forest Thigpen

Missouri — Family Policy Center. Helped pass a law defining marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman. Working on legislation promoting abstinence-based sex education.

Paul Scianna

North Carolina — North Carolina Family Policy Council. Helped pass abstinence-based sex-ed law. Promotes school choice, charter schools.

Bill Brooks

North Dakota — North Dakota Family Alliance. Helped thwart appropriations for Goals 2000. Planning a fatherhood initiative.

Clinton Birst

Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania Family Institute. Issued report on no-fault divorce that helped spark divorce-reform legislation now under consideration. Working on legislation defining marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.

Mike Geer

South Carolina — Palmetto Family Council. Only organization to testify against school-based clinics in public schools, resulting in tabling of school health bill.

Steve Suits

South Dakota — South Dakota Family Policy Council. First state to pass legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Developing divorce reform and welfare reform.

John Paulton

Tennessee — Family Institute. Helped pass same-sex marriage ban, and Families First welfare-reform package. Working on legislation eliminating no-fault divorce when children are present.

Jeff Whitesides

Texas — Free Market Foundation. Promoting law requiring abortion clinics to meet same medical standards as same-day surgery centers.

Candi Cushman

Virginia — The Family Foundation. Helped defeat gambling legislation. Waging public education campaign opposing Goals 2000.

George Tryfiatis

[George is now affiliated with Concerned Women for America]

Washington — Washington Family Council. (See article.)

Jeff Kemp

Wisconsin — Family Research Institute of Wisconsin. Helped defeat legislation outlawing reasonable parental discipline measures, including spanking. Promoting bill requiring parental permission for school surveys on private family information.

Marvin Munyon


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1 Response

  1. ‘Family’ in politics has become a word void of all meaning. No more than an excuse. Often its used to rally support to causes which are only weakly and indirectly tied to family – anti-abortion, anti-porn, anti-sex-ed. Most of all, those who oppose gay marriage will often claim they are being ‘pro-family’ in doing so – though its obvious they are really only being pro- a specific type of family, and against another. Sometimes there are real family-related issues like child-care services, but mostly its just become a political power-word that can be slapped on any position to call a crowd of sheep.