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History of Public Interest Institute

 

Dr. Don Racheter, professor of political science, envisioned a research organization in Iowa that would offer positive solutions and alternatives to state and local officials, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and promote the role of the private sector in providing services economically and efficiently.  With the support of David M. Stanley and E&M Charities, Public Interest Institute was incorporated in 1989 as Iowa’s only state-level, independent, public-policy research organization.


Public Interest Institute began operations on June 1, 1991 on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in a temporary office with one employee, Dr. Racheter, while renovations on our current site were completed.

The Institute was established as a support organization for Iowa Wesleyan College and Tax Education Foundation.  To ensure this cooperation, Public Interest Institute’s By-Laws require that a majority of the Institute’s Board of Directors must be officers, directors, or trustees of Iowa Wesleyan or Tax Education Foundation, with at least one Board member from each of the supported organizations.

The first event held by Public Interest Institute was a conference in February, 1992, "Making Iowa a Growth State."  Conference speakers explored why Iowa’s population had not increased during the 1980s; why Iowa was losing jobs, factories, and people during that time; and solutions to Iowa’s population and job loss.

 

On May 22, 1992 an open house and ribbon cutting officially welcomed Public Interest Institute to the campus, community, and its present location, the Hershey Hall Annex at Iowa Wesleyan College. Dr. Racheter spoke of his satisfaction of seeing his idea finally come to fruition, and highlighted the Institute’s goal of becoming a nationally-recognized source of ideas and policy alternatives. Following the open house, the Institute expanded its staff and began to distribute the first of many publications.

 

Public Interest Institute hosted a Privatization Conference in Des Moines, Iowa on February 5, 1993. The audience heard several experts on privatization discuss the possibilities for a partnership between government and the private sector to reduce the cost of services for citizens.

 

Also in 1993, Public Interest Institute’s logo first appeared on publications and correspondence. The logo, which incorporates the initials of the organization into a classical Greek pillar, was designed by Susan Meierotto, an Iowa Wesleyan student majoring in commercial art.

 

In 1994, Public Interest Institute sponsored a two-day conference in Des Moines, "Health Care Issues and Alternatives." Conference attendees looked at various health care reform proposals at the state and national levels and examined government-oriented vs. market-oriented reforms.

 

In April 1995 the Institute’s first issue of our monthly publication, INSTITUTE BRIEFS, was published. INSTITUTE BRIEFS are short articles or summaries on timely topics.

 

Public Interest Institute hosted the Iowa Conference of Political Scientists in November, 1995. An audience of political science professors, government teachers, and students heard panels discuss the upcoming Iowa legislative session, methods of teaching political science, politics and the media, and international politics. The guest speaker at this event, Bill Eggers of the Reason Foundation, shared his thoughts on downsizing government and devolving government to the state and local level.

 

FACTS & OPINIONS, a quarterly publication of Public Interest Institute, was first published in November 1995. FACTS & OPINIONS consists of short articles of public interest with emphasis on current issues. That quarterly publication was soon joined by two others, IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD, which provides analysis of and statistics on Iowa’s economy, began publication in January 1996, and LIMITS, which includes information on limiting government for the protection of human rights, debuted in March 1996.

 

In 1995 and 1996, Public Interest Institute published STATISTICAL PROFILE OF IOWA, a factual overview of Iowa covering topics such as population, education, quality of life, transportation, business climate, economy/income, and government finances/taxes. The cover of the 1996 STATISTICAL PROFILE OF IOWA was designed by Gabe Sojka, an Iowa Wesleyan College student.

 

In 1996, the Institute established a national Academic Advisory Board chaired by Dr. Richard E. Wagner, Holbert L. Harris Professor of Economics at George Mason University. Current Advisory Board members are Dr. Robert Bish of the University of Victoria, Dr. Edgar Browning of Texas A&M University, Dr. Richard McKenzie of the University of California at Irvine, Dr. William Peirce of Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Randy Simmons of Utah State University, Dr. Eugenia Toma of the University of Kentucky, Dr. Gordon Tullock of George Mason University, Dr. Richard Vedder of Ohio University, and Dr. Bruce Yandle of Clemson University.

 

In March, 1996 Public Interest Institute hosted a two-day Leadership Iowa seminar for professional people from all over the state, exploring the topic of education and career opportunities and how they are related.

 

On Sunday, October 6, 1996, Public Interest Institute and KBUR Radio of Burlington sponsored a debate between Leonard Boswell and Mike Mahaffey, candidates for Iowa’s Third District U.S. Congressional seat. The debate was another Institute effort to educate the public about the critical issues facing citizens.

 

Public Interest Institute began the “Iowa Civics Project” program in the fall of 1996. Since that time, the Institute has been providing Iowa-specific information to supplement the curriculum for high school government teachers and home-schooled students. The Iowa Civics Project textbook, IOWA GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS, written by Institute President Dr. Don Racheter, consists of twelve separate lessons; each designed to focus on one aspect of government in Iowa. The chapters explore the historical development of government in Iowa; the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state government; county and city government; civil and criminal justice; school administration; other boards and commissions; political parties; interest groups, the media; and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Each chapter also includes a list of Useful Websites, a Review Quiz, and Suggestions for Additional Activities. The Institute also supplies a copy of the Iowa Constitution for each student. The Institute provides these materials at no charge to the schools or parents.

 

Also in the fall of 1996, Public Interest Institute began its A.B.D. Scholar-in-Residence program, which brought a Ph.D. student to the Institute for a school year to teach classes at Iowa Wesleyan College and assist the Institute with research. Visiting scholars to the Institute have included Anthony Santelli, Daniel Primbs, and José Stelle.

 

On September 2, 1997, Public Interest Institute sent out our first weekly newspaper column, IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST, to seven Iowa newspapers. Our circulation has grown to over 200 newspapers around the state.

 

Public Interest Institute’s staff displayed publications and visited with those attending the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant in 1997, 1998, and 1999. The Institute’s booth featured the Iowa Quiz, testing participants’ knowledge of Iowa’s history and government.

 

In 1998 Public Interest Institute debuted its website, www.LimitedGovernment.org. Visitors to the site can read Institute publications, visit the “Collected Wisdom” page to read Institute articles on various topics, view all 50 state Constitutions, find information on Limitations on Government, and learn more about the history and staff of Public Interest Institute.

 

LIMITING LEVIATHAN, a book from Public Interest Institute, was published in May 1999. The collection of chapters makes a case for limited government and discusses the types of limitations that are appropriate and necessary. LIMITING LEVIATHAN was edited by Dr. Don Racheter, Public Interest Institute President, and Dr. Richard E. Wagner, Public Interest Institute Senior Fellow and Academic Advisory Board Chairman.

 

Public Interest Institute began an Op-Ed series, OF PUBLIC INTEREST, in August 1999. This column was sent to over 100 media outlets around the nation. Authors of this column, which features commentary on timely issues, include Dr. Richard E. Wagner, Public Interest Institute Senior Fellow and Academic Advisory Board Chairman and Dr. Don Racheter, Public Interest Institute President.

 

The Iowa Straw Poll was held in Ames, Iowa on August 14, 1999 and Public Interest Institute was there. Just prior to the Straw Poll, the Institute co-hosted, with the Cato Institute, a debate entitled Is There a Future for Social Security? A distinguished panel of policy experts, who specialize in Social Security issues, took part in the debate. The panel included Lisa Davis, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security; Scott Hodge, Senior Fellow for Tax and Budget Policy at Citizens for a Sound Economy; Dr. James Hutter of the Iowa Conference of Political Scientists; and Michael Tanner, Director of Health and Welfare Studies at the Cato Institute. The debate was moderated by Dr. David Roe, President of Central College, Pella, Iowa. Immediately following the debate, presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes presented statements of their perspectives on the Social Security crisis.

 

During the Iowa Straw Poll activities, Public Interest Institute staff set up a table to provide information on public policy issues and handed out copies of the Iowa Constitution, U.S. Constitution, and other publications from Public Interest Institute, the Cato Institute, and Heritage Foundation to the thousands of Straw Poll participants.

 

On December 10, 1999 Public Interest Institute hosted an environmental education conference in Des Moines. The purpose of the conference was to initiate discussion about the extent to which environmental education curricula are science- and economics-based. Public Interest Institute saw a need for this type of discussion in the findings of a joint policy study, Status of Environmental Education in Iowa and America, by the Institute and the Center for Environmental Education Research. Featured speakers at the conference were Dr. Michael Sanera, Director of the Center for Environmental Education Research at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.; State Senator Kitty Rehberg, Vice Chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee and member of the Iowa Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee; and Duane Toomsen, Policy Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education.

 

Public Interest Institute President Dr. Don Racheter and Pat Soldano of the Center for the Study of Taxation headed a July 20, 2000 press conference in Washington, D.C. to announce the release of a Public Interest Institute study on the negative effects of the death tax. The study, A Declaration of Independence from Death Taxation: A Bipartisan Appeal, is authored by Edward J. McCaffery of the University of Southern California Law School and Richard E. Wagner of the Department of Economics at George Mason University. The press conference included remarks by Senator Charles Grassley, Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, Congressman Christopher Cox, and the authors of the study, Dr. McCaffery and Dr. Wagner.

 

Public Interest Institute’s second book, FEDERALIST GOVERNMENT IN PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE, was published in October 2000. The twelve chapters in FEDERALIST GOVERNMENT IN PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE look at the relationship between federalism and liberty and explore the substantive practice of federalism, particularly the centralizing processes at work and the opportunities for decentralization. The book was edited by Dr. Don Racheter, Public Interest Institute President, and Dr. Richard E. Wagner, Public Interest Institute Senior Fellow and Academic Advisory Board Chairman.

 

Public Interest Institute began its student intern program in 2000. Interns have come from our home campus of Iowa Wesleyan College as well as other colleges around the country. Past interns include Adam Streetman, Ilya Filimonov, Brian DePriest, Beth Hunsberger, Melissa Smith, John Kelley, Justin Jenkins, and Jeremy Donaldson. IWC student Aimee Howd and IWC graduate Michel Prince worked as Editorial Assistants for Public Interest Institute.

 

In July 2002, Public Interest Institute published our third book, Politics, Taxation, and the Rule of Law: The Power to Tax in Constitutional Perspective, again edited by Dr. Don Racheter and Dr. Richard E. Wagner. Politics, Taxation, and the Rule of Law looks at the balance between providing government with the power to operate while preserving and protecting our rights of person and property.

 

Effective June 1, 2005, Dr. Donald P. Racheter assumed the duties of President of Public Interest Institute on a full-time basis. Racheter originally had the idea to create the Institute in the late 1980s, serving as the Institute’s initial Executive Director, and later on the Institute’s Board of Directors. He returned ten years ago to serve as the Institute’s part-time Executive Director, and was later promoted to President. Public Interest Institute Chief Executive Officer David Stanley said of Dr. Racheter’s new status “Don is eminently well qualified by both education and experience for this position, and has been producing excellent work for us on a part-time basis. We are very pleased that we will now be the sole focus of his professional efforts.”

 

In August 2007, Public Interest Institute staff travelled to Ames, IA to participate in the Iowa Straw Poll. While there, the Institute team dispersed organizational information and promoted the message in its mission statement: free markets, limited government, and individual liberty.

 

In September 2008, Public Interest Institute launched a new website to further the cause of transparency and accountability in Iowa state government. The transparency website, www.IowaTransparency.org, allows visitors to easily see the votes and spending habits of each Iowa Legislator. The website will allow Iowans to see how the dollars total up in the spending column for each Legislator. “Vote Tally” and “Bill Tally,” adapted from the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, will make information on appropriations votes accessible to the taxpayers of Iowa. “Vote Tally” analyzes floor votes on appropriations bills and gives reports on spending patterns of Iowa Legislators. “Bill Tally” gives spending data for sponsored legislation introduced in chamber. The Institute also began publishing the IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER, a monthly publication offering the latest news on the transparency movement in Iowa and around the nation.

 

In 2009, Public Interest Institute published ten POLICY STUDIES, ranging in topic from government spending and budgets, to education and school choice, as well as high-speed rail, the environment, and President Warren G. Harding. That year marked the tenth anniversary of the publishing of our first POLICY STUDY, The Status of Environmental Education in Iowa and America. The POLICY STUDY series continues today, and Institute staff have researched and written on many subjects, including Broadband, state-government employee wages and benefits, Tax and Expenditure Limits (TELs), project labor agreements, the Internet, and township government in Iowa.

 

Public Interest Institute launched a third website, www.IowaVotes.org in January 2009. Iowa Votes gives users instant access to concise, plain language and objective descriptions of every bill, amendment, and vote that takes place in the Iowa Legislature. Unlike any other bill tracking utility, Iowa Votes is unique because all legislative actions are described – not just those selected by a particular interest group. It is searchable by Legislator, keyword, and 50 subject categories, so users can create their own custom “voting record guide.” Iowa Votes also provides citizens with an on-line forum where they can exchange views with others about specific bills or other Iowa public policy or political issues. 

 

The first annual meeting of the Iowa Association of Political Scientists (IAPS) was held in March 2011 at the Howe Activity Center at Iowa Wesleyan College. The meeting was co-hosted by Iowa Wesleyan College and Public Interest Institute. Speakers at the IAPS meeting included Iowa’s Second District Representative Dave Loebsack and Jeff Boeyink, Chief of Staff to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Presentations were also made by Dr. Eduardo Magalhães III of Simpson College and Dr. Christopher W. Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa. Officers for the IAPS include Dr. Don Racheter, President; and Amy Frantz, Treasurer. The Iowa Association of Political Scientists was established to provide professional development opportunities and the sharing of ideas among political science professors, high school civics and government teachers, and others whose profession is in the political science field, as well as anyone who shares an interest in the purpose of the IAPS.

 

Public Interest Institute staff attended the August 2011 Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa to hand out reusable cloth grocery bags with the PII logo and website address. Inside each bag were an “ObamaCare is Unconstitutional” Fact Sheet, some of the Institute’s most recent publications, and handouts from State Policy Network, Heritage Foundation, and Iowans for Tax Relief. Institute staff promoted Public Interest Institute, SPN, and other organizations, as well as discussed issues such as ObamaCare, the state budget, and government transparency with many of the Straw Poll attendees. Nearly 17,000 Iowans cast a vote at the Iowa Straw Poll, and many more than that were in attendance that day.

 

Ongoing publications include IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD, LIMITS, INSTITUTE BRIEFS, and IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER.

 

As of today, Public Interest Institute has five staff members.