Promoting Free Societies

Inside a Liberty Lab: Heather Curry’s Role in Advancing Freedom at the State Level

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As a political scientist outside of America’s ivory towers, Heather Curry has been hard at work to advance freedom throughout the United States’ “laboratories of democracy.”

As Director of Strategic Engagement for the Goldwater Institute since 2018, she has worked with numerous Atlas Network partners and other free-market organizations to provide guidance and support in Arizona and across all 50 states, making the Grand Canyon State a proving ground for reforms that can be adopted by states around the country.

Curry’s talent for helping think tanks build bipartisan coalitions among advocacy groups and policymakers has resulted in scores of legislative victories that change life for the better for average Americans. She credits her focus on building personal relationships as the secret to her success, enabling the Goldwater Institute to help pass 97 bills across 37 states in 2023 alone.

“I always knew I wanted to be involved in politics. But I did not know that my role would look like what it does today,” Curry told Atlas Network. “My job is to take the Arizona policy victories we get in our state and help legislators and other groups and advance the reforms in their own states.”

Curry says Goldwater Institute’s multi-state efforts are so effective because they begin with reaching out to other state-based think tanks and advocacy organizations.

“We talk to them about what it is they're hoping to accomplish and how we can help provide support for them. We rely heavily on our partners, like the Pelican Institute in Louisiana, to do much of the groundwork because they know the legislature, they know the state dynamics. They know what’s politically feasible. And so my role is to identify opportunities where we can help support the work that they're already doing.”

For example, there are few fundamental rights that Americans hold dear more than the freedom to work and put food on the table for their families. But when many professionals and skilled laborers move to a new state, they often face “occupational licensing” barriers that can prevent them from engaging in their desired professions.

Curry and her colleagues at the Goldwater Institute are convincing states to drop onerous, costly, and time-consuming job licensing requirements for sectors where there is no public health and safety justification, as well as state-specific license regulations for newcomers that already have earned and maintain permission to work from their state of origin.

Goldwater Institute's reforms creating universal recognition of job licensing in Arizona have made a real-world impact. It means more than 6,500 workers new to the state can now work their fields without burdensome red tape. They helped the Arizona state legislature pass Bill 2569, the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, in 2019, and since then 22 other states have expanded universal licensing recognition, with more on the way.

“I like to hear the personal stories of people who have benefited from the reforms we’ve enacted,” she said. “I think that’s really cool. And I think I am most proud of the role that I've played in making it easier for other Americans to live their lives.”

Atlas Network has provided support for many of Goldwater Institute’s efforts and accolades for many of their accomplishments. Initiatives such as the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act and the Right to Earn a Living Act have received grant funding, and the organization’s documentary filmmaking efforts have been backed by Atlas Network’s Lights, Camera, Liberty grant program.

Goldwater Institute’s massively successful Right to Try campaign, which prompted the passage of a bill at the federal level and in 41 states so far, was named a finalist for Atlas Network’s prestigious Templeton Freedom Award. Just a few years later, Heather’s success building momentum in multiple states for the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act won both the 2022 North America Liberty Award and a spot as a finalist for that year’s Templeton Freedom Award.

By continuously striving for bigger wins for Arizonans, Goldwater Institute is setting the standard for what Atlas Network partners can achieve. This ambition, and Heather’s role helping other organizations replicate wins in their own states and learn from Goldwater’s experience, is a prime example of Atlas Network’s Coach, Compete, Celebrate model in action, inspiring allies around the world who are working to open the door to more economic opportunity.

Seeing the effect of that inspiration as other states adopt Goldwater Institute’s ideas is especially rewarding for Heather.

“Sometimes it's really hard to get that first state to enact an exciting new idea,” she said, “And before you know it, you get half the states doing something that you were working on a couple of years ago.”