June 8, 2017 Print

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  gainedsmall  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.