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Thorner: Heartland Institute Welcomes New President, Hundreds of Guests at Picnic for Freedom



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Heartland's new president Dr. Tim Huelskamp, former Congressman Joe Walsh

By Nancy Thorner - 

Heartland Institute introduced its new president, Dr. Tim Huelskamp at what many attendees hope will be an annual event on the afternoon of September 9: the Picnic for Freedom! Some 200 friends of liberty gathered iat Heartland’s facility in Arlington Heights on a picture perfect day of bright sunshine, a mild temperature, and a gentle breeze. 

Visitors were there to meet Dr. Huelskamp, meet featured speaker Joe Walsh – whose AM 560 show is now syndicated nationally on the Salem Radio Network – and to also wish Godspeed to Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president since its founding in 1984, and his wife Diane Bast, who has worked as an editor at Heartland almost as long as her husband. 

For many Joe and Diane Bast represent the face of Heartland with its mission to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Their hard work and dedication was instrumental in developing The Heartland Institute into a premium think tank known throughout the world, especially as one promoting skepticism of man-made climate change. Joe and Diane Bast plan to step down from their current positions at Heartland in January to travel, kayak, camp, and spend time with family. After three decades of great work for the freedom movement, it’s a well-earned rest.

Heartland’s new president, Tim Huelskamp, Ph,D., comes to Heartland as a former three-term member of Congress and a well-known conservative leader. He was a fifth-generation family farmer in Kansas, where he farmed for more than 30 years. Dr. Huelskamp and his wife Angela are proud parents of four children. 

Festive Atmosphere Awaits Guests 

A festive atmosphere greeted me as I entered the site of Heartland’s Picnic for Freedom. Many tables were set about on the parking lot for guests to enjoy the plentiful picnic fare provided by a catered food service from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., some with overhead covering for protection from the sun. The pleasing and varied menu offered hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers, barbecue chicken, fresh sweet corn, potato salad, watermelon, and chips. Going away hungry was not an option! Also on hand was a popcorn machine, manned by Heartland Graphic Designer Donny Kendal, which churned out tasty popcorn to be enjoyed by young and old throughout the afternoon. Music provided by DJ and Heartland Communications Intern Andy Singer (studying management at DePaul University) enhanced the celebratory atmosphere, as did balloons which were scattered about.  

Free items were given out to guests on two different occasions to the first 50 guests, including “Freedom Champions” T-shirts imprinted featuring Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ayn Rand. Heartland also gave away “Freedom Champions” posters featuring the people on the T-shirts, plus Ludwig von MisesBooker T. Washington, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Raffle tickets, with opportunities to win even more prizes, were sold throughout the afternoon to help raise funds for the nonprofit organization.

Heartland’s indoor event space, the Andrew Breitbart Freedom Center, was open for guests to explore the display tables of picnic sponsors. These included the Lake County Gazette, a proud sponsor of LGIS - Local Government Information Services; Homeowners Defense AssociationAM 560 The Answer; Arlington Heights Tea Party; Virtual Agora; and West Suburban Patriots. Heartland extended thanks to the exhibitors for their continued community leadership. While checking out the exhibits, an assortment of cookies and cold drinks were available for the taking. Tables were also provided for those who preferred to be inside. 

Speakers Laud Joe Bast

Midway through the event, attendees gathered round for a short program with four speakers.

Joe Walsh, well known to most of the attendees as a talk show host on AM 560 did not disappoint. He spoke with enthusiasm, further displaying the rather bombastic style he is known for. Walsh revealed that he had a connection to The Heartland Institute, being hired by Joe Bast and working for the organization from 1994 to 1996.

Walsh spoke of being elected to the U.S. House in 2010, the “Tea Party Revolution when Republicans won control of the House. Walsh revealed that both he and new Heartland president Tim Huelskamp were classmates in the 2010 election and became good buddies. But with the elevation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House in 2011, Walsh and Huelskamp became thorns in the side of House leadership. They both voted their consciences, for freedom, and this made Boehner dislike them – which Walsh and Huelskamp wore as a badge of honor. Walsh only lasted one term; Huelskamp lasted three. But it was evident from their interactions at the Picnic for Freedom that the two men remain good friends.

Walsh called our current political times “crazy” stressing how we must hang on the ideals that unite us: freedom and limited government. In speaking about Joe Bast, Walsh compared him to our Founding Fathers in that he doesn’t crave the limelight. Joe Bast is happiest when he can sit in a room and write. Nevertheless, Bast’s years of dedication and selfless effort at Heartland has done much to advance the Freedom Movement, which will continue to thrive under Tim Huelskamp. In commenting about the 36-year marriage of Joe and Diane Bast, their tenure at Heartland was a team effort all the way – and obviously a labor of love for both.

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Joe Bast & Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes; Heartland's Donny Kendal & Jim Lakely

Joe Bast was next, and he didn’t lose any time in assuring his many admirers and friends that both he and his wife Diane were healthy and had no plans to go into politics. As he reflected upon his and Diane’s many years at Heartland, Joe related how he and Diane had tried to strike a balance in their lives, but were unable to do so. Deciding not to have kids, both of them worked 60 hours a week for decades, and such a schedule would become wearing for anyone. So Bast made a decision: When he reached 60, which happens next January, he would step down. Joe believes that the best days are ahead for Heartland and that the organization will grow even larger in the years ahead.

Next, Tim Huelskamp took the microphone. Huelskamp left Kansas with his family and moved to Illinois because he wanted to make a difference. He said he is honored to hold the position of president of The Heartland Institute. The former congressman spoke of Washington as being broken and as a swamp. Republicans made promises when running for office, but they are not following through with them. Worse, they are not allowing Trump to implement some of the same policies they said they supported – for instance, repealing Obamacare. Accordingly, the real action must now take place in the states, which is where it should be.

Freedom demands that we make decisions for ourselves. Our Founding Fathers realized that human nature would make man want to put his trust in government. As the Founding Fathers didn’t even trust themselves, they fashioned the Constitution to reflect the importance of individual human freedom.

In his stirring speech, Huelskamp said that if the Freedom Movement is snuffed out in this nation it will fail everywhere, for this nation stands as the last best hope in a world controlled by dictators and despots. But there is “Hope in the Heartland,” and in America’s heartland values. He asked those present to help advance liberty and the values of the heartland by supporting The Heartland Institute.

Finishing the program was Executive Assistant Wanda L. Davis who read a funny and touching poem by Heartland supporter Tom Tripp in tribute to Joe Bast. 

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Wanda Davis; David Parrenborn & Diane Bast

Outstanding Guests, But Too Many to List Them All

I was able to personally meet many of the guests. I was impressed that Heartland Institute Research Fellow Bette Grande, a former state legislature in North Dakota, had flown in with her husband to attend the event. She works on energy and environment (and sometimes pensions) for Heartland.

Sitting at a table inside the Andrew Breitbart Freedom Center I met George Clowes and his wife Joan. George told me that he had served as founding managing editor of Heartland’s School Reform News between November 1996 and January 2005. During those eight years, he solicited and edited hundreds of articles reporting on the latest developments in curriculum, school choice, school finance, and other aspects of school reform. He also authored many articles for School Reform News, including a lengthy interview each month with a leading figure in the school choice movement. Clowes remains a Heartland senior fellow for education policy.

A Fitting Postlude

Even though all signs of Heartland’s Picnic for Freedom have been removed, and the back parking lot is once again being used for its intended purpose, the flame of freedom continues to burn brightly at The Heartland Institute.

 Dr. Huelskamp’s boundless energy and personable nature was evident to all who met him at Heartland’s picnic. Despite the many feelings of loss and regret expressed to Joe and Diane over their impending departure, Huelskamp’s presence bodes well for the future of the organization in its mission to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems in the years ahead.


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