The State Policy Network interviewed Kyle Wingfield, who became the president and CEO of The Georgia Public Policy Foundation in April 2018. The interview is republished below in its entirety and can be accessed at https://spn.org/leader-spotlight-kyle-wingfield-gppf/.
Welcome to SPN’s interview series where we connect with leaders from state think tanks to share their stories and learn how their insights might inspire our work.
In this interview we chat with Kyle Wingfield, the new president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation a few months ago, Kyle spent many years as a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covering policy issues in the state of Georgia.
Here are his insights after just a month or two on the job:
SPN: How did you first get involved in the freedom movement?
Kyle: My first exposure to the freedom movement was while working as an editorial-page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe. My job brought me into contact with a number of people in the movement, from US-based think tanks, such as The Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, to European ones, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and Istituto Bruno Leoni. Attending and speaking at their events gave me a glimpse of that world, and I’m excited to work in it full-time now.
SPN: Was there a moment or a role model that inspired you to choose work that’s dedicated to the cause of freedom and human flourishing?
Kyle: I grew up hearing my grandmother tell stories of how much her father, a farmer in Middle Tennessee during the Great Depression, hated FDR’s restrictive economic policies and regretted his vote for him in 1932. That greatly shaped my general outlook.
SPN: Based on your observations, what do you think is the next big opportunity for the freedom movement?
Kyle: One big opportunity is getting back to basics with a new generation of Americans. We’ve all seen the polling about millennials and socialism, to name one indicator about the threat posed to economic freedom. And we’ve all seen the sometimes-violent protests on college campuses by students who refuse to hear—or even be in the same ZIP code as someone offering—contrary thoughts, to name one sign of the threat posed to our fundamental liberties as Americans. But it’s not just young people, or our friends on the left: a lot of Americans who are far-removed from their college years and who think of themselves as conservatives have drifted far away from what we thought was a consensus about, say, the merits of free trade. There can be a tendency to those of us who work in the policy world to get lost in the details of any given issue. We also need to revisit first principles and reinvigorate the discussion of why these are basic, fundamental freedoms—and, in the case of free trade, ideas—that undergird the entire American system, and must be protected.
SPN: What do you enjoy most about being a part of a network working to promote freedom?
Kyle: Getting to meet so many smart people doing so much great work!
SPN: How did you wind up at your current organization?
Kyle: I had followed the Foundation’s work closely during my nine years as a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, attending most of its events and writing about many of its policy proposals. When Kelly McCutchen decided to leave for another venture, I jumped at the chance to succeed him.
SPN: Where do you think the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is making the biggest difference in people’s lives?
Kyle: Our biggest victories have come from criminal justice reform and school choice. Georgia used to be a national leader in a bad way, at or near the top in the proportion of adults either in jail or on probation. But the state has become a leader in criminal justice reform over the past seven years. Taking a cue from our friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, our organization was among the first in Georgia—in fact, the first on the center-right part of the political spectrum—talking about the need to make changes.
Our prison population has stopped growing and includes several thousand fewer people than projected when the reforms began. That means there are several thousand people, plus their families, who are living better lives today than they would have otherwise. As for school choice, Georgia has tens of thousands of children in charter schools and more than 13,000 attending private school thanks to tax-credit scholarships—two programs the Foundation has championed over the years.
SPN: What has been the most memorable moment since you joined your current organization?
Kyle: It’s hard to pick a single moment. But I think it felt the most “real” when I took the microphone at our first event after I started at the Foundation, to welcome the audience assembled to hear authors and commentators Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson.
SPN: What SPN staff member, training, or resource has had the greatest impact on your work?
Kyle: I’m looking forward to my first experience with SPN and already am enjoying the warm welcome from my fellow SPN think tankers!
SPN: What current issue or policy is nearest and dearest to your heart?
Kyle: School choice. There’s nothing quite so important to a child’s future well-being as his ability to get the education he needs. Improving traditional public schools is a fine and worthy goal, but we’ve been trying that in this country for decades, with little to show for it. In the meantime, generations of Americans have failed to fulfill their individual potential.
It’s a cliché, but every child really does have only one shot at getting a quality education. While the adults work out the problems with the education system they’ve created and operate, children and their families need the ability to make other choices. And of course, more competition just might spur traditional public schools to finally get it right.
SPN: When you’re not improving the world at work, where are you likely to be found?
Kyle: On the move! My wife and I are active members of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. I’m an Eagle Scout and a volunteer leader for my older son’s Cub Scout pack and an assistant coach with both of my sons’ flag football teams. I also serve on the communications committee for their charter school, Atlanta Classical Academy, and on the Board of Visitors for my alma mater, the University of Georgia.
SPN: Tell us about your favorite hobbies and pastimes.
Kyle: I love to attend play sports with my boys and take them to sporting events, especially University of Georgia football games and Atlanta Braves games. I also enjoy camping, traveling, reading, playing board games, and gardening.
SPN: Who are a few of your favorite authors, blogs, etc.?
Kyle: My favorite book to recommend to people in policy or politics right now is The Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin. I think his framing of our wrongly focused political debate is dead-on, and he even recommends trying to solve more of our policy problems at the state and local level. I have been on a bit of a C.S. Lewis kick (non-fiction) lately, and I enjoy pretty much anything by Erik Larson. For fiction, I think it doesn’t get much better than Larry McMurtry.
I thank you for what you do. For 15 years you’ve been researching and writing on issues that matter. You take on tough questions, you apply innovative thinking, you push for action, and you do it all without regard to politics.