A haven for conservative ideas Political science: Two men create a think tank to focus on the right side of local, state issues.

The Political Game

November 28, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

A PAIR of former Johns Hopkins University political science wonks decided in the waning years of the Reagan Revolution that Marylanders needed their own conservative think tank.

This year, Dr. Ronald W. Dworkin and Douglas P. Munro finally acted on their idea and founded the Calvert Institute for Policy Research to focus on local and state issues.

"Maryland has been a one-party, one-ideology state for a good many years, and we're trying to be heard so that there's more than one voice," said Dr. Dworkin, 36, an anesthesiologist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He is also a fellow at the Institute for American Values, a New York think tank for family policy issues.

The two founders say the institute will generate policy papers, sponsor conferences and serve as a research resource for citizens, local officials and state legislators.

The bent will be conservative.

"Conservatism is the dominant intellectual force in America now," Dr. Dworkin said. "There's a wide spectrum in the movement, and I'd describe us as mainstream conservative."

The ideology certainly has seemed to gain steam here in usually moderate Maryland, with the Republican Party now being taken more seriously by the Democrats and Gov. Parris N. Glendening tilting to the right as a "pro-business" executive.

Among the Calvert Institute's first priorities will be recommendations for cutting the state budget and lowering taxes, improving public education through greater accountability and school vouchers, and promoting a "free-market approach" to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

The institute's very name is designed to send a message of less government involvement and more personal freedom. It is named for George Calvert, first of the Lords Baltimore, who founded Maryland as a colony where government could not dictate religion to its people.

For now, the operation is being run from Mr. Munro's Charles Village home, though the group is weighing a decision to move to Annapolis.

"The primary sources for new ideas down there are lobbyists, which are probably not the greatest source to get your information from," Mr. Munro said.

While Dr. Dworkin is a Republican, the public policy institute (that's PPI in think-tank parlance) is nonpartisan, which is mandatory to maintain its federal tax-exempt status.

"It just so happens that most liberals are Democrats, and most Republicans are conservative," he explained. "But we'll be happy to give our ideas to the Democrats."

Dr. Dworkin's partner in the venture, Mr. Munro, is British, with no U.S. party affiliation. But having been a consultant on federal-state relations, he is not unfamiliar with politics -- and said he wants to see the institute stay above that fray.

"State think tanks act to percolate new ideas and refocus new ideas on state government," said Mr. Munro, 31, a one-time staffer for the conservative Heritage Foundation. "If we can refocus the attention of free-market academics on Maryland policy then I think a useful purpose will have been served with respect to those new ideas."

Dr. Dworkin and Mr. Munro, who "gravitated toward each other" in the late 1980s as Johns Hopkins graduate students, stress for the record that there are Democrats on the institute's 17-person board of trustees and eight-person board of academic advisers.

The membership of both boards also shows the influence of national think tanks, including the libertarian Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. It seems PPIs beget PPIs.

In fact, the institute already has received a $5,000 grant from the conservative Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Va. It also has a challenge grant ("Raise $90,000, we'll match it with $10,000") from the Roe Foundation, a Greenville, S.C., organization dedicated to funding free-market and limited-government policy development.

The two men say that as they move toward making the institute a full-time endeavor, they will be soliciting more donations from other foundations, Maryland business leaders and politicians who are like-thinking.

The chairman of the board of trustees, Douglas W. Hamilton Jr., says he hopes the Calvert Institute will invigorate the state's policy debates.

"Some of us with deep roots in the community look at our state and at our city of Baltimore and say, 'Look, it's time for some fresh ideas,' " said Mr. Hamilton, who is president of Hamilton Associates Inc., a manufacturing company in Owings Mills.

"Maryland's social policy and tax policy have not had the desired results," he said. "If it did, I'd be sitting here a happy liberal."

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