The passing of Ted Halstead at far too early an age—52—has left me in shock. Ted, who died in a hiking accident last week, was likely the top public policy entrepreneur of his generation and a one-of-a-kind thinker in every respect. Even as I and the rest of R Street mourn his passing, I know that his legacy as founder of New America and the Climate Leadership Council (CLC) will certainly endure.

I first met Ted as a junior reporter just out of college when what was then the New America Foundation was a small startup think tank with an interesting business model and new ideological perspective. He was only a few years older than me and just looking at him gave me a sign of what I might be able to accomplish. Ted was always willing to take my calls, and he became a role model to me.

We stayed in touch through the years and a conversation I had with him about the struggles of starting a think tank—and the importance of building long-term relationships—has always stuck with me. His intellectual versatility also amazed me: I remember a small dinner we had together with some other policy folks when I was working on Capitol Hill and his own thoughts (sadly, newly relevant) on the risk of pandemic disease. I don’t believe he ever published much on pandemics but he predicted the current situation very well.

And New America, as it is now called, is an impressive institution in every way. More than 20 years after he started it—and a decade after he left full-time work there—it still bears Ted’s imprint: smart, sometimes iconoclastic and full of genuinely new ideas. Today, R Street is a proud and frequent partner of New America (we run the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group with them.)

After not seeing him for some years—he left New America, sailed around the world and remodeled an old house—Ted reappeared in my life with a business plan and vision for a new organization, CLC. While I had a degree of skepticism around the fundamental idea he was selling—a  carbon tax refunded through dividends—I like Pigouvian taxes and thought that he had some very interesting insights. In fact, when others asked me about his idea I said, “I don’t think I could politically do what he’s trying to do and I’m not sure if others could. But I think Ted can.” And I meant it, 1,000 percent. Further, I’m very proud that an R Street alum, Catrina Rorke, serves as one of CLC’s vice presidents.

Ted’s work remains unfinished, of course. Indeed, talk of a big-government “green new deal” makes me realize that Ted’s push toward market-based solutions to climate change is all the more important. To slightly modify a common saying in my faith tradition, his memory will surely be a blessing.

Image credit: Gabriella Demczuk, New America

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