Q&A with Jesse Mallory | ‘Economic liberty will be realized on the community level’
Author: Dan Njegomir - May 3, 2018 - Updated: May 3, 2018
Worried about the future of freedom? Rest assured; assorted advocacy groups on America’s political right are doing your bidding — though it’s often enough on the far-off battlefront of our nation’s capital.
Americans for Prosperity is fighting the fight in the trenches alongside you — in your state, in your community, one issue after another. Hence, Jesse Mallory, since last May the state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado.
Mallory leads the charge for AFP in the Centennial State on initiatives as wide-ranging as school choice, tax cuts and small-business empowerment. He also oversees organizing and mobilizing his legions of volunteers statewide to make their case through a variety of means to state and local policy makers.
While AFP is a national behemoth founded and funded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, Mallory describes an organization with a distinctly hyper-local focus: It’s true power seems to lie in its work with, and appeal to, the grass roots. Its mission, he says, is all about “empowering individuals.” He elaborates in today’s Q&A.
Colorado Politics: Americans for Prosperity is an advocacy powerhouse on the center-right in Colorado and nationwide, yet it’s distinct from Republicans as a political movement and isn’t always necessarily in sync with the GOP platform. How would you describe AFP’s overall philosophical tilt?
Jesse Mallory: That’s right, Americans for Prosperity has always focused on the policies versus supporting a particular party. We’ve openly criticized and commended elected officials from both political parties. Our organization supports policies that create opportunities where individuals can thrive.
Prosperity and opportunity come from the ingenuity and hard work of individuals and entrepreneurs, not from government. As government grows, individual liberty and the opportunity for citizens to improve their own lives and provide for their families disappear. This means, depending on the issue, we’ll align with a member of either party to accomplish a policy goal.
CP: Along with some other stakeholders on Colorado’s political right, AFP has been a vocal advocate for school choice and education reform in the state — policy initiatives that, to an extent, have enjoyed bipartisan support. Yet, at their recent state convention, Colorado Democrats rebuked a pro-education reform faction within their own ranks and repudiated a Democratic organization that supports reform.
Charter schools have previously been embraced by presidents of both parties; now, pro-teachers union Democrats are denouncing those, too. What do you believe is behind that shift, and do you foresee a retrenchment of the school choice debate along the old partisan lines?
Mallory: There are many studies that show educational freedom and the freedom of choice is working throughout the country, especially for those that are less fortunate. Every single child deserves the opportunity to receive a great education, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents earn. Choice, competition, and innovation in education that allow parents the freedom to decide what is best for their child creates greater opportunity, but especially for those most in need of a brighter future.
I think the recent shift back to entrenched thinking comes from the powerful special interests and teachers unions hanging around the halls of the Capitol. But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If we truly want to put our children first, we need to explore every option that improves the educational results of our children.
If we don’t innovate and expand choice for students that have different needs, or learn in a different way, how can we expect them to be prepared for what’s to come? And contrary to what many believe, education freedom and school choice can benefit children from all income brackets and upbringing.
- State director, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, since May 2017.
- Former chief of staff, Colorado Senate Majority Office, 2014-2017.
- Veteran of GOP campaigns.
- Holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
- Born in Wyoming; raised on a farm in Adams County, Colorado.
CP: Tell us about your background — you grew up in Wyoming before attending college in Colorado — and how it shaped your views today.
Mallory: My family moved to Wyoming where I was born and lived for a while, but the large part of my life was actually spent living on my family’s farm in Adams County. And I’m pretty sure I was the only farm kid who didn’t own a pair of cowboy boots – still don’t. I loved living in the country (except when baling hay) which is probably why I love camo, fishing and target shooting.
Living on a farm forces you to grow up fast because of the everyday demands. You can’t stop until the job is done and ignoring a project doesn’t make it go away. You have to deal with things, you have no other choice.
I had friends who complained about how traumatizing mowing the lawn was for them. I told them to imagine what it’s like to have to pull a calf because the mom was having difficulties delivering. (Think of the movie “City Slickers.”) Or what it’s like to bale hay in the summer for hours on end.
CP: Let’s say the policy table rests on three legs: One stands for fiscal issues like taxing and spending; another is regulatory issues — ranging from federal air-quality rules to local laws on who can drive a taxicab, and then there are social issues like same-sex marriage and physician-assisted suicide. Where does AFP focus most of its advocacy in context of those policy areas?
Mallory: We are solely focused on policies that empower individuals and allow them to succeed on their own and support their families. Government must have a small footprint in order for individuals to succeed. We’re lucky to have a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in this state. It forces the state government to live within its means and make the tough decisions that most politicians would likely sidestep.
It’s also important Colorado’s regulatory framework isn’t overly burdensome. Heavy-handed regulations stifle innovation and deter many businesses from scaling or employing more people. That also has the effect of deterring entrepreneurs, as in the case of Colorado’s excessive occupational-licensing laws.
CP: Is the battle for economic liberty as AFP sees it ultimately going to be fought and won in Washington — or in legislatures and city halls around the country?
Mallory: Economic liberty will be realized on the community level, and that’s where AFP is having its biggest impact. Many in the media want to claim “the Koch Brothers from Kansas are coming into town,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our state chapter boasts over 125,000 Colorado activists and an ever-expanding base of local donors. We are comprised of local volunteers who understand our mission and our goals and help hold their elected officials accountable for their votes. We have field offices in Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Denver, Greenwood Village, Westminster, Grand Junction and Durango that are constantly reaching out to community members to educate them on our mission and how our policy priorities will be benefit them, their families and their communities.
While we have state chapters nationwide and will always play a part in federal affairs, we ultimately call ourselves a state-based organization because we believe our biggest impact will be on the local level.
CP: AFP sometimes has a big-picture vision — like its stance on school choice or some major tax issues — and it also can go deep into the weeds with an almost granular focus on local concerns. An example of the latter might be one of AFP’s latest initiatives, taking on state and local licensing for occupations. Those affected often include the smallest of small businesses. What’s at stake here? What are the implications for the overall economy?
Mallory: Again – we’re focused on empowering individuals so they can succeed. Broad federal policies, like tax reform, can affect individuals by how much of their hard-earned money they keep.
As for occupational licensing, it’s simple — the government shouldn’t be a barrier to someone finding a job. The current occupational licensing system negatively affects job-seeking Coloradans, especially minorities and the least fortunate by mandating excessive fees and over-burdensome training, which studies have proven to have no net-effect on consumer safety.
We will take any means necessary to help free individuals from the constraints of big government, whether that’s on the federal level or the local level. And our goal is to help individuals of all backgrounds. Small business especially because it is the lifeblood of our economy. If they succeed, Colorado succeeds. So we need to make sure we create a business environment where they can thrive.
CP: You have to take a break from fighting for freedom and prosperity now and then. What does a Mallory family vacation look like?
Mallory: We threw out the idea of a standard “vacation” years ago and decided long weekends are more realistic. My wife and I both work and our kids have extremely busy schedules because of karate, sports and family events. So we let our kids pick what to do — which means we could be going to Yellowstone, Seattle, hanging out in Wyoming, or just avoiding everyone and watching movies for the weekend. My ideal getaway is a place where my phone doesn’t work. That’s a harder sell now that the kids are older.