Texas think tank adds former Indiana Congressman to D.C. policy shop

John Hostettler, left, answers a question as U.S. Senate candidates running in the GOP primary participate in a debate at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, April 19, 2010.
John Hostettler, left, answers a question as U.S. Senate candidates running in the GOP primary participate in a debate at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, April 19, 2010. AP

A conservative Texas think tank is staffing up to run interference on Democrats’ policy agenda in Washington — by advocating for state-based solutions to issues like immigration, energy regulation, education and health care.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation this week hired former Indiana Congressman John Hostettler to lead its states’ focused initiative, part of a growing satellite office located blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

“The idea is to get Washington, D.C., to recognize and to facilitate work on the part of the states to take greater control over issues such as health care policy, energy policy, education policy and the like,” Hostettler said in an interview with the Star-Telegram.

The foundation, based primarily in Austin, has seized opportunities to expand its federal policy agenda in the era of President Donald Trump, who the group counts as an ally to much of its deregulatory agenda.

Former foundation president Brooke Rollins serves as a special adviser to Trump in the White House Office of American Innovation, and Bernard McNamee, who led a states’ rights division at the policy foundation, serves as Trump’s top appointee at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The group’s latest moves prepare to play defense, however, against a Democrat-controlled House that’s rallied around sweeping federal initiatives like the Green New Deal to address climate change and economic inequity.

“Washington, D.C., has a habit of putting in place one-size-fits-all [solutions] for a union of 50 states who, from state to state, have very different levels of resources and capabilities,” said Hostettler, a staunch constitutional originalist who represented Indiana in Congress from 1995 to 2007. “We want to be front and center in giving examples of where and how the states are already solving these problems.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation doesn’t disclose its donors, but receives money from a host of corporate energy interests.

It shares a board member, oil magnate Tim Dunn, with the socially conservative lobbying group Empower Texans, and counts education reform among its top policy goals in Austin.

Hostettler, who has advocated for the abolition of the Department of Education, plans to use his role to push for a reduction of federal involvement in the education system. That movement has an ally in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As a former member of the House panel on immigration and border security, Hostettler also plans to expand the group’s policy agenda to include some employment-related immigration issues, such as guest worker programs to allow states to fill their job needs.

The foundation’s federal policy work has at times run afoul of Republicans in Washington, many of whom oppose a Texas-led lawsuit the group joined that would effectively unravel the Affordable Care Act. A federal judge ruled in favor of their argument late last year, though the case is all but certain to be challenged in a higher court.

“We’re looking at different plans to share with the federal government that the states are implementing in that area,” said Hostettler.

GOP leaders also dug their heels on a criminal justice reform bill that the foundation rallied support for in Washington, which eventually passed with the help of Democrats.

Hostettler, 57, ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Senate nomination in Indiana in 2010. He now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, where he’s been coaching future conservative candidates on the constitution through the Center for Christian Leadership.

He joins Zoë O’Herin, previously the legislative director for former Rep. David Brat, R-Virginia, at Texas Public Policy Foundation States Trust initiative.

Hostettler said he does not plan to register as a federal lobbyist.

Andrea Drusch is the Washington Correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She is a Corinth, Texas, native and graduate of the Bob Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University. She returns home frequently to visit family, get her fix of Fuzzy’s Tacos and cheer on the Horned Frogs.