Alumni in focus: Connor Boyack

Connor Boyack

Connor Boyack, president of the Utah-based Libertas Institute, has an entrepreneurial hustle. From his unique children’s liberty book series The Tuttle Twins to his work protecting economic liberty in the burgeoning Utah food truck industry, he isn’t afraid to tackle numerous projects at once. And he does it all with an appetite for success. Connor and Daniel Anthony, editor-in-chief of Freedom’s Champion and Atlas Network’s vice president of marketing and communications, first met when Connor attended an Atlas Network training in New York in 2015. Daniel recently caught up with Connor to learn a little more about him and his team’s work at Libertas. This first appeard in Freedom's Champion Spring 2017.

Daniel Anthony: How do you go from a hobby in 2009 to starting a successful free-market think tank just two years later?
Connor Boyack: Prior to starting Libertas Institute, I was a senior web developer with a successful career; politics was a mere hobby. I was part of the core team to elect Mike Lee as a senator in Utah in 2010. At the time, I was focused on the federal government — but soon thereafter realized that little to nothing good comes by focusing at this level of government. My time, talents, and energy would largely be wasted.

But the state level is different; one person at a local level can make a difference. And I saw a need in Utah — there was no voice of liberty at the state level, yet plenty of need for that voice given how overbearing the state had become on a number of issues. Realizing that I had an opportunity to turn my hobby and passion into a career, I started Libertas Institute in 2011 and haven’t looked back since.

The Libertas Institute team in 2016.

And how do you know whether you’re having an impact?
We’ve been tremendously successful. As of now, 74 percent of our legislative proposals are enacted into law. We’ve created significant reforms on a wide range of issues: protecting parental rights, deregulating homeschooling, reforming civil asset forfeiture, increasing government transparency, limiting surveillance and protecting privacy, guarding civil liberties, and more. We have unique and compelling projects, and we’re focused on building a brand that is associated with a pattern of success.

What are some of the projects you and your team are working on these days?
Creating political change in a climate of apathy and where people believe “all is well” takes a tremendous amount of hustle and a bit of creativity. Some of our projects have included amending state constitutions to protect the use of property as a fundamental right in order to reduce overbearing land use ordinances that effectively eliminate a property owner’s right to peacefully do with their land what they desire. We are also working on fixing the criminal justice system by restoring the jury as a fundamental backstop of the system. Many jurors don’t know about their right to acquit defendants who may be technically guilty of an unjust law but should be held harmless given the injustice of the law’s application in that particular circumstance, so we’re making sure jurors are informed. And we are protecting economic liberty in the burgeoning food truck industry by establishing a statewide reciprocity system whereby costly business license fees and food handling permits can be streamlined and regulations minimized to free up the market.

Why isn’t there a free market for food trucks?
In each city where they operate, they have to get inspections, pay fees, and comply with all sorts of regulations. As mobile businesses, when they want to go from one city to the next, that creates quite a bit of regulatory redundancy — and the costs add up very quickly. Food trucks operate on a very slim profit margin, so to compete and succeed, every dollar counts.

In 2016 we decided to help raise awareness of this problem — and to point people toward a reasonable solution. So we hosted a “Rally for Food Truck Freedom” in Salt Lake City. Nearly 2,000 people attended, along with 13 food trucks and a slew of media outlets. The truck owners were so grateful for our support and are eager to see these burdensome laws streamlined and minimized.

Sean Hintze, who runs Sean’s Smokehouse BBQ and Grill, echoed what the other entrepreneurs feel. “Food trucks like mine are very difficult to operate successfully,” he said. “There are a number of regulations and fees that make it difficult for us to do what we do best: sell great food to willing customers. Libertas has been a fantastic ally to us by trying to free up the market so we can operate and compete without unnecessary and burdensome regulations.”

Connor Boyack being interviewed during the “Rally for Food Truck Freedom” in 2016.

Are you only focused on Utah for now?
We love Utah. We also think our mission is critical for other states. So our goal is to work on policies and projects that can punch above their level and have an impact far beyond the borders of our state.

The policy examples I shared above are some of those we’re trying to “nail and scale,” with a very limited budget and small team. We’ve also launched a few projects that are completely unique in order to have a potentially bigger impact.

One is the Freest Cities Index — a report ranking Utah’s top 50 cities on a wide range of metrics. People are familiar with national and international indices, but to our knowledge ours is the first at a local level like this. We need to create more transparency like this at a local level so it can be used — whether for political change or simply by freedom-loving families deciding in what community they want to live.

Another unique project is our series of children’s books that teach young kids from ages five to 10 the principles of freedom. It’s called The Tuttle Twins, and each book is based on an important book or essay in our movement. We have five books so far, and with support from Atlas Network we’ve translated some of them into foreign languages and are working with Atlas Network partners and other groups to distribute them around the world. There is nothing like this series of books, and in the years ahead we’re hoping to aggressively accelerate their distribution around the world, including getting them into schools to become part of the curriculum.

What have you gained, small or big, from your partnership with Atlas Network?
I had no educational background to do what I’m doing now. It’s been a lot of on-the-job training along the way. For that reason, Atlas Network has been a tremendous resource — the Atlas Leadership Academy trainings, the mentorship with John Tillman of Illinois Policy Institute, and the online resources have allowed me to rub shoulders with experienced think tank executives from whom I can learn as I figure out what we’re doing!

Leadership can be lonely. As we each work in our communities to advance the cause of freedom, it can be an isolating and overwhelming feeling to often be in the minority — especially when you’re pushing against a government that has seemingly infinite resources and supporters of the status quo.

Atlas Network is great for many reasons, not the least of which is the networking of like minds across the world who we can connect with, learn from, and share struggles and successes with — to know that we have allies in the fight, each working within their spheres of influence.

Connor Boyack has taken several courses from Atlas Network’s Atlas Leadership Academy (ALA), including: Think Tank Leadership Training; Lights, Camera, Liberty; and the Mentorship program with mentor John Tillman of Illinois Policy Institute. He graduated from ALA in 2015.

See more Alumni in Focus:
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Akash Shrestha: Championing entrepreneurs in the new Nepal.
Candelaria de Elizalde: A demanding voice in Argentina.

Ayesha Bilal: Navigating Pakistan's opaque maze of bureaucracy.