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Abstract: When a retired Massachusetts oil company executive decided, in the mid-1980s, to establish a free market-oriented public policy think tank, he faced daunting obstacles. Massachusetts had historically been one of the nation's most politically liberal states. Then-Governor Michael Dukakis--who would go on to become the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1988--advocatd significant expansions of government, such as a universal health insurance program. The new think tank, Pioneer, with its contrasting vision of limited government, had to find ways to gain credibility in the state's political culture and ultimately, it hoped, push public policy in its own desired direction. The case recounts the group's early run of success, particularly during the administration of Republican Governor William Weld, a political kindred spirit, who hired and promoted Pioneer staff members. But by the mid-1990s, Pioneer faced a backlash. Its trademark privatization program had been blocked by the state legislature. And its widely-publicized backing for publicly-funded "charter schools"--to introduce competition to public education--showed promise but faced resistance.
Learning Objective: The case frames the strategic dilemma of Pioneer as it seeks to sustain and expand its influence through research and advocacy.