President and Founder, Center of the American Experiment
It was almost 1990 when Mitch Pearlstein announced to friends and colleagues that he was going to open a conservative think tank in Minnesota—a state that hadn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972.
"Conservative ideas are not terribly well attended to in this state," Pearlstein told a reporter at the time, "in part because they're not terribly well articulated."
Nearly 20 years later, the center is still with us. It has survived internal rifts and financial scares, and through its studies, books, lectures, and conferences it is endlessly feeding a pipeline of intellectual and analytical ammunition for conservative crusaders—from activists to elected officials—statewide. Center fundraisers have drawn the likes of Bush Sr., Margaret Thatcher, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Henry Kissinger. The center is something of a trailblazer in the vast universe of conservative think tanks. Before Pearlstein came along, no such undertaking had adopted, as he describes it, the "most difficult, nastiest issues" of a single state as its focus. Today there are many.
Pearlstein is a prolific author of books on school choice, the family, and other conservative touchstones. Larry Jacobs calls Pearlstein Minnesota's George Will, "but nicer."
From CAE's inception, Pearlstein has emphasized that the organization is nonpartisan. Conservative, yes. Republican, no. Not surprisingly, the center draws Republicans by the bushel—many of the state's most influential Republicans have served as CAE advisors or directors. The traffic from CAE board or staff positions to public or party office and vice versa (U.S. Rep. John Kline was an executive vice president, Carol Molnau headed a task force) has drawn challenges over the integrity of the center's nonprofit, nonpartisan status, which the think tank has enjoyed without any federal-level objections for nearly 20 years.
Pearlstein spreads his influence widely, with positions at the Commission on Parenthood's Future, the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute Advisory Council, the Public Policy Advisory Committee of the School of Education at the University of St. Thomas, the Hiawatha Leadership Academy's Board of Advisors, and the Partnership for Choice in Education.