vince gunn photo illustration

Top Economist for Texas’ Most Influential Policy Shop is Headed to the Trump Administration

Vance Ginn, who orchestrated TPPF’s radically right-wing economic agenda, is the latest staffer from the influential think tank to work for the president.


Justin Miller has brown hair, a light beard and mustache and is wearing a corduroy button down over a dark t-shirt.

The revolving door between the Lone Star State’s powerful right-wing think tank and the Trump administration continues to spin.

Vance Ginn, the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s senior economist, is going to Washington, D.C., to work for the Trump administration, the Observer has learned.

Reached by phone, Ginn confirmed that he will soon join the administration as the associate director for economic policy at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Ginn said that he is eager to export the so-called Texas miracle to the nation.

Trump Houston
Donald Trump at a rally in Houston in 2018.  Gus Bova

As the director of TPPF’s Center for Economic Prosperity, Ginn was the voice for the think tank’s radically right-wing economic agenda. He’s advocated for harsh spending restraints and against regulation of fossil fuel industries. He has called the federal minimum wage “terrible policy” and likens it to artificial pricing by government decree. In Ginn’s ideal world, both state and federal governments would abolish property and business taxes and replace them with a consumption tax.

The Austin-based organization looms large in the halls of the Texas Capitol and has close relationships with Governor Greg Abbott and other top conservative lawmakers. As the Observer first exposed, TPPF is heavily funded by a long list of powerful corporations, including the Koch brothers and major fossil fuel producers. Critics say the conservative policy shop is a front group that launders white papers for corporate special interests. “TPPF has continuously worked against the interests of working people at the Texas Legislature. Their ideologies are out of touch with the needs of Texans, and only look to serve an extreme conservative base,” said Sam Robles of the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas. “It’s no surprise to see a bench growing out of Texas for the Trump administration.”

The group has become a powerful player in the federal swamp. At least six TPPF senior staffers have joined or advised the Trump administration. Among them is former president and CEO Brooke Rollins, who took the helm of the White House Office of American Innovation, the brainchild of the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Last year, Trump tried to tap Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas environmental regulator and TPPF’s top energy policy analyst, to run the Council on Environmental Quality, but she was deemed too extreme to pass Senate confirmation.

Kathleen Hartnett White during a U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing for her nomination to the Council on Environmental Quality.

Ginn, who will not need to be confirmed, will fit right in at Trump’s OMB. Under the initial leadership of tea-party firebrand and former South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, the quietly powerful office became a stronghold of hardline fiscal conservatism, ruthlessly advocating for severe spending cuts to government services and aggressive deregulation of industry.

As associate director for economic policy, Ginn will be the office’s top economic appointee, working closely with Trump’s economic policy aides. The position has the potential for a tremendous amount of power. “An individual who really wanted to could have a significant and potentially very negative impact on programs that help millions of people,” a former OMB official in the Obama administration, who asked not to be named because he remains active in federal policy work, told me. “The details really matter.”

“TPPF has continuously worked against the interests of working people at the Texas Legislature. Their ideologies are out of touch with the needs of Texans, and only look to serve an extreme conservative base.”

Ginn insists that conservative economics is all about helping improve people’s lives. “It doesn’t care about your race or gender. It cares about economic prosperity,” he said, adding that this requires curbing the power of the federal government. “I’m not an anarchist by any stretch of the imagination, but government should be limited.”

Ginn sees himself as proof that the Texas miracle works. Home-schooled by a single mother what he describes as a “relatively poor” Houston neighborhood, he was a first-generation college graduate who then earned a Ph.D. in economics from Texas Tech University. Now, he’s going to work for the president — “It’s God’s calling,” Ginn said.

Mulvaney has since ascended to become Trump’s chief of staff, but the OMB’s agenda has not softened. Now headed by longtime conservative activist and Heritage Foundation operative Russell Vought, the OMB recently called to explore the possibility of changing the way that inflation is indexed for measuring poverty. Critics warn that it’s an underhanded way to reduce the roughly 40 million impoverished Americans’ access to assistance programs.

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