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RUSS LATINO: Freedom isn’t ‘frightening’

“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”  — Eleanor Roosevelt



In a recent column—ominously headlined “Koch thought machine will influence Mississippi elections”—Bill Crawford takes aim at Charles and David Koch.

The premise of the article is not new.  Like so many others who have tread this path before him, Crawford leans heavily on inaccuracies and class warfare to raise alarm about the Kochs and the organizations they support.

In true gossip fashion, the article attributes the most loaded accusations to the most overworked source in the history of American journalism, the “say” family:

“Charles and David Koch want to influence, some say control, the political thoughts of Americans.”

“The Koch brothers and their super wealthy compatriots are spending billions of dollars to inform, many say indoctrinate, Americans on how to think about government…”

“[T]he pervasiveness of the Koch thought machine across America is mind boggling, some say frightening.”

Grab the pitchforks and torches!?!  No, wait. Let’s pause for a moment and think about what is missing.

First, the recognition of irony is missing — you know, the kind of irony that comes when a newspaper opinion writer treats the notion of someone trying to influence thought as some heinous act.  In a free society, people can and should freely think and express themselves. This includes the ability to share information in an attempt to persuade.

There is nothing sinister about trying to persuade people to another way of thinking.  Indeed, it’s precisely what Mr. Crawford was trying to do and it’s why the editorial page of his newspaper exists.  A robust marketplace of ideas is precisely how we sharpen ourselves and progress.

Second, in an effort to create boogeymen, the column leaves out important context regarding the breadth of the organizations mentioned. For instance, Americans for Prosperity-Mississippi is staffed by Mississippi residents, driven by Mississippi volunteers, and supported by Mississippians who agree with its mission and vision.  Without Mississippians, AFP-MS would not exist.

Across the country, Americans for Prosperity has 3.2 million activists and over 100,000 donors. Visit any AFP field office in the country and what you will find is a local community of concerned citizens. The notion that Charles Koch personally runs AFP in Mississippi, or any other states, is ridiculous.

Third, and most telling, the article lacked any genuine attempt to explain what the organizations targeted stand for.  In a nutshell, Americans for Prosperity exists to make people’s lives better.   That is the “why?” The “how?” is by educating on, and advocating for, the ideas of a free and open society—ideas like free speech, property rights and free markets.  These “radical” ideas are foundational to peace, prosperity and wellbeing.

In Mississippi, this commitment has included fighting for lower taxes so families can take care of themselves and grow the economy in their communities.  It’s included championing legislation, recognized nationally as first-of-its-kind, to tear down occupational licensing regulations that make it harder for people to get a job or start a business. This legislative session, it meant building bipartisan coalitions to achieve meaningful criminal justice reform that will make our streets safer and help former offenders re-enter society.

We have supported free market reforms that brought Uber and craft breweries to Mississippi, defended health care options like telemedicine from bureaucracy, worked to give families more freedom over how their children are educated, and loudly opposed corporate welfare and protectionism for the favored few.

In light of this last item, the column’s accusation of self-dealing is particularly silly.  It evidences someone who does not understand the underlying free market philosophy that drives these positions.  We are trying to replace the political favoritism that plagues our system with a society of equal rights and mutual benefit in which people succeed by creating value for others.

Mr. Crawford claims AFP’s activity in Mississippi is about elections. Not so.  It is about advancing policy that allows people to pursue their American dream.

For too long, Mississippi has been mired in mediocrity. The “status quo brigade” is threatened by a vision for something better than the good ol’ boy system that has our state routinely near the bottom in national rankings.  Excuse us if we refuse to accept that and believe there is a better way forward for our great state.

Freedom isn’t “frightening.” There’s nothing scary about communicating ideas and helping citizens find their voice, and we will continue to do so.


» Russ Latino is the Mississippi State Director of Americans for Prosperity.  He can be reached at rlatino@afphq.org.


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