When I arrived at the Goldwater Institute more than 10 years ago as 29-year-old political neophyte, I was dispatched by the board of directors to meet with then-Speaker of the House Jane Hull. I was surprised at how happy she was to meet someone she didn't know.
I soon realized she would have been happy to meet anyone who was about to replace the first president of the Goldwater Institute, Michael Sanera. Sanera had proved to be a constant irritant to Speaker Hull and many other public officials.
I understood that my performance as executive director would largely be gauged by how irritating I could be to those serving in elected office. Standing in defense of liberty is a lonely, and often irritating, business. It is a job that the Goldwater Institute has performed admirably for 15 years.
More than 150 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville warned that the system of government in America was more likely to produce "guardians" than "tyrants." As we've seen of late, the French haven't been exactly clairvoyant in spotting tyrants, but de Tocqueville sure had the "guardian" thing down pat.
Closer to home, the Institute's namesake, Barry Goldwater sounded a similar alarm. He said that when it comes to politicians, broken promises aren't our problem. Kept promises are. Promising more than government can, or ought to, deliver is not the sole province of any political party. It is characteristic of politicians in general.
Exposing the danger of "kept promises" has kept the Goldwater Institute awfully busy.
During the late 1980s when politicians eager to expand state government promised that the latest of a series of tax increases would solve Arizona's "structural deficit," the Goldwater Institute effectively demonstrated that tax increases don't solve deficits, particularly when state spending is spiraling out of control.
When state legislators throughout the 1990s were promising meaningful education reform, the institute was there again to serve up constant reminders that choice and competition were necessary ingredients. Arizona now has more than 450 charter schools and thousands of children attending private schools because of tuition tax credits, a testament to the institute's effectiveness.
When Valley politicians promised that they had a plan to deal with long-term transportation problems, the Goldwater Institute warned that the Valley's congestion and pollution problems were far too serious to consider spending billions of dollars on light-rail trolley cars. The fact that Phoenix has moved ahead anyway shows that politicians don't always listen to the Goldwater Institute.
On Saturday, the Goldwater Institute will celebrate 15 years of defending liberty with an anniversary gala. Here's hoping that 15 years is just a good start.
--Jeff Flake, a Republican, is a Congressman representing Arizona's District 6.