A different perspective
The Washington Policy Center brings a credible, free-market approach to policy issues
When it comes to agriculture and food, even the most scientifically solid argument can be choked by an emotional response to the messenger. Fortunately, Washington state’s farmers and ranchers just got a heaping spoonful of good fortune.
The Washington Policy Center (WPC), regarded by the public, legislators, stakeholders and the media as an organization that can be relied on to research and report on issues from a nonbiased, fact-based standpoint, recently created a position to investigate Washington’s agricultural issues and policies. The agricultural research arm joins six other key areas of research focus including education, environment, government reform, health care, small business and transportation. Chris Cargill, WPC’s Eastern Washington director, took a moment to answer some questions about WPC’s mission and its new ag position.
What is the Washington Policy Center, and what is its purpose?
The Washington Policy Center (WPC) was established in 1996 and is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and educational organization. We are a statewide organization with 18 employees and offices in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Olympia. The WPC is funded through donations from thousands of individual supporters throughout our state, plus foundation grants and businesses. Information on memberships can be found on our website at washingtonpolicy.org under the “About” tab.
Our purpose is to research relevant public policy issues and offer practical, common-sense recommendations for citizens, lawmakers and the media. By doing so, our work improves peoples’ lives and our state.
What are some of the projects the WPC has been involved in?
We have an impressive track record and bring a credible, free-market perspective to the public debate in Washington state. Our research on public charter schools in 2012 opened the door to a public discussion and eventually the new law that enabled Washington to become the 42nd state in the country to allow for this type of education innovation. WPC research has also shown the severe damage any state income tax proposal might cause to Washington residents and businesses. Furthermore, our staff is leading the way in efforts to bring remote testimony in the state legislature to more places throughout Washington, allowing citizens the opportunity to testify before legislative committees without traveling to Olympia during the legislative session.
The WPC recently hired a research director focused on agriculture. Why did you feel you needed someone in this position now?
For many years, we have focused on six areas of research: education, environment, government reform, health care, small business and transportation. When we opened our Eastern Washington offices, our supporters pointed out our work was missing that key ag component, which is critical not only to Eastern Washington, but truly the entire state. After meeting with state ag businesses and leaders, we determined there was a need for a research group like the WPC to be involved in producing market-based analysis and recommendations on agriculture issues.
What kind of research do you think you’ll be doing in/for the agricultural industry?
As many in the ag industry know, the list of issues that need to be addressed is long and growing longer every day. We’ve created an ag advisory group that will be helping us finalize our first set of priority issues. We anticipate covering roughly a dozen, in-depth issues per year. We’ll also be covering many more with shorter pieces on our blog at
washingtonpolicy.org. Those pieces might include the amount farmers pay in both state and local taxes, the impact of dam removal, developing new irrigated farmland, the impacts of the Columbia River Treaty renewal, the federal regulatory overreach impacting state farmers, the impact of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Washington and much more.
How does the WPC go about gathering the information it needs?
The intellectual and practical capacity of our staff is one way, but we also learn lessons from other states. We take ideas and approaches that other states have used and see if they can work in Washington. Neither political party has a monopoly on good ideas.
Our research staff is made up of experts in their fields. Our health care policy analyst is a retired heart surgeon. Our environmental policy analyst formerly served on the executive team with the state Department of Natural Resources and now writes for The Wall Street Journal. Our government reform director is considered one of the state’s leading budget experts and is someone many lawmakers go to both before and after they cast their votes.
The WPC is known for being bipartisan. How does it maintain that position?
It is of the upmost importance. We are not a political organization. We are a research organization, and we keep our independence by sticking to the facts. I think that’s why you’ve seen members of both political parties willing to work with us. They might not agree with our recommendations, but they know that our research and data are indisputable.
In the final analysis, our job is to lay out the research and make our best recommendation that will improve lives.
New hire ready to tackle ag policy issues
Madilynne Clark may be a “Beaver” in “Cougar” country, but she’s itching to claw her way deep into the issues surrounding Washington state agriculture.
While Clark may have stepped into her new job as agriculture research director for the Washington Policy Center (WPC) just last month, she’s been involved in agriculture most of her life thanks to her father who was a large animal veterinarian and her involvement in FFA. She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in environmental economics, policy and management and got her master’s degree in agricultural and resource economics from Colorado State University. Her husband, Kyler, works as a farm manager. The Clarks live in Kennewick, Wash., with their three-month-old son.
Clark has previously done marketing and research work in ag production, wholesale, retail and policy, but her new job allows her to combine all three of her passions: agriculture, research and policy. She said she is excited to be able to have more of a voice through recommending policy based on extensive research.
“I think right now, there is such a disconnect between consumers and farmers. Consumers are so far removed (from agriculture) and voting on policies and encouraging policies that are detrimental to ag,” she explained. “The WPC plays a critical role in connecting these two parties, explaining where farmers are coming from and how these policies consumers think are good are actually harmful to agriculture and the market’s ability to develop. It boils down to protecting what is on consumers’ dinner table. When they vote for bad policies, it hurts their food supply.”
Based on responses from a survey the WPC sent out to ag stakeholders earlier this year, Clark said some of the issues that are on her radar include labor; GMO labeling; and water supplies and water quality issues, especially concerning dairies and the What’s Upstream media campaign that accused agriculture of polluting the state’s water. As she settles into her new position, Clark is keeping busy writing blog posts and opinion pieces; those can be found at washingtonpolicy.org. She said she plans to use a free-market ideology when looking at issues, letting the math and numbers do the talking.
“The WPC promotes free-market solutions, and this agriculture position was to promote free-market solutions for the industry that help improve sustainability by providing solutions good for both the farmer and consumer,” she said. “We’ll look at the issues and figure out what is sustainable, not necessarily what is the easiest answer.”