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.
"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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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."
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. (See article.)
Gary Palmer at 205-870-9900.
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.
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.
California -- Capitol Resource Institute. Working on divorce reform, a fatherhood initiative, and a same-sex marriage ban.
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.
Florida -- Florida Family Council. Promoted fatherhood campaign; working on education, welfare, divorce reform.
Georgia -- Georgia Family Council.
Idaho -- Idaho Family Forum. Helped pass "defense of marriage" legislation.
Illinois -- Illinois Family Institute. Working on state curriculum standards, a fatherhood initiative, and a law requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion.
Indiana -- Indiana Family Institute. Working on education, welfare, and divorce reform.
Kansas -- Kansas Family Research Institute. Developing public-service announcements extolling fatherhood; promotes abstinence-based sex-ed programs.
Kentucky -- The Family Foundation. (See article.)
Maine -- Christian Civic League. Helped defeat outcome-based education legislation. Working on parental-rights legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts -- Massachusetts Family Institute. Promotes divorce reform and parental rights, opposes euthanasia movement.
Michigan -- Michigan Family Forum. (See article.)
|Minnesota -- Minnesota Family Council. Promotes school choice and opposes campaigns to redefine family.
Tom Prichard at 612-789-8811.
Mississippi -- Mississippi Family Council. Working on charter-school legislation.
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.
North Carolina -- North Carolina Family Policy Council. Helped pass abstinence-based sex-ed law. Promotes school choice, charter schools.
North Dakota -- North Dakota Family Alliance. Helped thwart appropriations for Goals 2000. Planning a fatherhood initiative.
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.
South Carolina -- Palmetto Family Council. Only organization to testify against school-based clinics in public schools, resulting in tabling of school health bill.
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.
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.
Texas -- Free Market Foundation. Promoting law requiring abortion clinics to meet same medical standards as same-day surgery centers.
Virginia -- The Family Foundation. Helped defeat gambling legislation. Waging public education campaign opposing Goals 2000.
Washington -- Washington Family Council. (See article.)
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.