Recognizing Citizens Who Fight for Freedom


Lens of Liberty and partner State Policy Network

Recognizing Citizens Who Fight for Freedom

Each year at the State Policy Network Annual Meeting, Lens of Liberty’s Helen Krieble presents the Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award and a check for $25,000 to an American who has worked particularly hard to make a significant contribution to the preservation of Freedom. Winners of the Unsung Hero Award exemplify how citizens should engage the responsibilities of American citizenship.


The annual Unsung Hero Award winner is selected from a pool of nominees whose applications are evaluated by Helen Krieble and Lens of Liberty directors. Criteria include: 1) The nominees’ story: how the applicant fought back an attack on individual rights or other principle of freedom; 2) The applicant’s determination and process; 3) The applicant’s clarity of purpose and originality in their essay; and 4) The results of the applicants’ work to advance freedom.
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Unsung Hero Award Winners

William (Duffy) Mich

In August, 2017, Vernon K. Krieble Foundation Executive Director Shari Williams awarded a $25,000 check and the 2017 VKK Unsung Hero Award to Duffy Mich at the State Policy Network’s 25th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Selected from an impressive number of nominees, Duffy Mich stood out for his work to hold the Empire State Development Organization, the Long Island Economic Development Council and the State of New York accountable to the people.

In 2013, private citizen Duffy Mich discovered that someone had put half-a-million dollars into a bankrupt venture capital company called Conrack Innovate New York LLP. That “someone” was part of a federal jobs program that “invested” New York State’s money into various economic development agencies. Duffy learned that these agencies put money into seven venture capital firms, including Conrack, that invested in startups.

Duffy figured “Federal money [the people’s money] used to invest in startups—what could possibly be wrong with that? Plenty!” Plenty indeed, as he discovered that an individual named “Mark” was both the provider and the recipient of the money!

Duffy Mich was bullied, blocked and threatened in his early work to research a clearly illegal misuse use of taxpayer dollars. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll let this drop,” declared an Empire State Development principal to Duffy. But Duffy Mich was resolute, and determined to uncover the people responsible for violating the public’s trust. He wrote letters, made phone calls, and became an expert on law, including the Small Business Job Creation Act of 2010. He wrote to the Governor, state senators and assemblymen.

Duffy’s persistence started to pay off when he received a letter from Empire, who wrote “In light of your continuing stream of letters, we have decided to reopen the review of these investments.” Then he went to a newspaper reporter, whose articles led to Duffy’s interview by the U.S. Department of Treasury audit team. Duffy told his story to the State Controller’s office for good measure, and was certain the crime and corruption had been undone. So he waited and waited…and waited. In the meantime, he reached out to the State Inspector General to learn that Mark was politically connected—he was part of Governor Cuomo’s transition team, and the first appointee to the Long Island Economic Development Council.

When the Inspector General discovered that Mark’s organization had missed seven audits over two-and-a-half years, it performed its own preliminary audit which stated “Mark’s investment in these companies is a reckless misuse of funds that cannot be permitted. “We got ‘em!” Duffy rejoiced. The Treasury Department ordered New York to return all the money. “We got them, too!” A Treasury Department audit of six other investment companies is ongoing, and Duffy vows to stick with it.

Four years later, after hundreds of hours, letters and phone calls, the money is back where it belongs, Conrack is out of the program, Mark is out of the Regional Economic Development Council, and both the number one and number two principals at Empire are gone! “That’s just about a clean sweep!”


Kirk Allen and John Kraft, Illinois

Vernon K. Krieble Foundation founder Helen Krieble awarded a $25,000 check and the 2016 VKK Unsung Hero Award to Kirk Allen and John Kraft in September at the State Policy Network’s 24th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Selected from an impressive and record number of nominees, Allen and Kraft stood out for their “watchdog” work to hold local government in Edgar County and throughout the state of Illinois accountable to the people.helen-presents-check-to-winners5

Neither one being a lawyer, and acting independently, Allen and Kraft’s initiative to expose government corruption has resulted in the dismissal, resignation or otherwise removal of nearly two hundred elected and appointed officials. Today, as they continue to monitor the activities of their local government, they are training others to be effective watchdogs in communities in Illinois and around the nation. Their inspiring contributions to freedom are helping to spawn a wave of citizenship involvement that is improving government accountability in Illinois and beyond.

In his acceptance speech, Edgar County Watchdog co-founder John Kraft highlighted some of their work, saying, “Since 2011, in our county alone, we have stopped public funds being used for gambling, township road commissioners giving free driveways to their friends, misuse of credit cards, annual trips to Florida on the public, board appointments to convicted criminals, and much more… Edgar County has been coined the most corrupt county in the most corrupt state in the nation…after decades of corruption, people accept it as the status quo and assume they can do nothing about it. Kirk and I fought back…We foster a climate of public opinion, we take it as our duty to shine light on corruption, and we shout out names as loud as possible [when we find people] responsible for undermining the public’s trust…”

Co-founder Kirk Allen continued, “With just shy of two hundred public officials out of government from our work, my first thought after being notified we won the award: Wow! Do you know how many tanks of gas we can buy to get to the next meeting! I humbly accept this award and look forward to filling those tanks for many years to come. When you know where the [taxpayer’s] money is going, you can make a world of difference at a [city council] meeting…We spent almost two years focusing on Edgar County government, and to say we shook things up is an understatement. To date, just in our county alone, forty-eight public officials have resigned, been removed, or refused to run again–and one was prosecuted.”
(You can access John and Kirk’s inspirational Unsung Hero award acceptance speech via the video on the right.)

Elaine Vechorik, Mississippi

In September 2015, the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation awarded a $25,000 check and the 2015 VKK Unsung Hero Award to Elaine Vechorik at the State Policy Network’s 23rd Annual Meeting in Detroit, Michigan. A record number of outstanding candidates from around the country were nominated for the award, but Elaine stood out for her hard work to reduce unnecessary government fees and costly regulatory burdens for the citizens of Mississippi.

Elaine’s hard-fought and ultimately successful campaign to eliminate Mississippi’s auto inspection sticker resulted in saving millions of Mississippian automobile owner and tax-payer dollars each year. Her three-year initiative led to the elimination of the state’s auto inspection fee as well as the dismantling of an entire inefficient, money-losing government program.helen-2015-unsung-hero-nominees-copy

“Each year, there was a [legislative] vote,” says Elaine, “but we couldn’t get a victory in the senate. In 2014, I spoke to legislators who opposed the bill and clarified many misconceptions. I wrote a “Mississippi Watchdog” article about it and created petitions and social media campaigns… In 2015 (an election year) the lieutenant governor decided ending vehicle inspections was a good idea, and the bill
passed to end our ‘fake’ vehicle inspection system.”

Elaine has also played a major support role in other legislative battles, including generating grassroots interest in a successful federalism bill to give states power over federal borrowing authority (The Compact for America), and a bill to reduce Medicaid fraud. Her current battles include eliminating civil asset forfeiture, campaign finance transparency, and empowering other citizens to get involved and work for legislative reform.

From all of us at the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation and State Policy Network, congratulations, Elaine, on great work as a model citizen activist!


Patti Morrow, New Hampshire

The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation awarded a $25,000 check to Patti Morrow at the State Policy Network’s 22nd Annual Meeting in Denver, CO in September 2014. Many excellent candidates from around the country were nominated for the award, but Jennifer stood out for her work as an advocate for less government

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Patti Morrow and other small, independent interior designers became the target of the American Society of Interior Designers in their multi-million efforts to minimize competition through government regulation.

Like most states, New Hampshire (the Live free or die! state, by the way) did not require a license to practice interior design. But in 2006, through the efforts of ASID and ASIDfunded New Hampshire Interior Design Coalition, the state legislature introduced an interior design liicensing bill that would place excessive restrictions on industry professionals, particularly small, independent interior design businesses—including a design-specific four-year degree, a two-year-minimum internship under a licensed designer, and an exam costing $2,000.

The effect of such absurd and unfair regulation would clearly have put Patti and many others like her out of business. So Patti fought back—by arming herself with research on the law and government regulation, and a strong coalition of support that included the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Clark Neily from the Institute for Justice.

Patti remained undaunted through a history of personal attacks, pulled herself up by her bootstraps, and eventually defeated ASID’s multi-million dollar effort to restrict competition. Following that win, Patti organized the Interior Design Protection Council, and has been fighting interior design regulation in states across the nation ever since.

In her Unsung Award acceptance speech, Patti Morrow said, ”I’m usually a pretty easygoing person, but there are two things you’d better not mess with: leave my kids alone, and leave my individual freedom alone.” No kidding, Patti!


Jennifer Parrish, Minnesota

Jennifer Parrish embodies the spirit of The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation Unsung Hero Award. She is committed to protecting the principles of freedom and works tirelessly to change state and local policy for the better—without the incentive a paycheck for her work or recognition.

Sine 2006, Jennifer has led a statewide coalition that fights against forced unionization of home childcare providers. She regularly hosts trainings to inform providers about compulsory unionism.

The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation awarded a $25,000 check to Jennifer at the State Policy Network’s 21st Anniversary Annual Meeting in Oklahoma City, OK, on Thursday, September 26, 2014. Many excellent candidates from around the country were nominated for the award, but Jennifer stood out for her work as an advocate for worker freedom. Jennifer is also a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of compulsory unionism of childcare providers and other independent business owners.

Her legal efforts, in addition to her grassroots and legislative advocacy work, will result in limiting the power of government to intervene in private industry on behalf of special interests.

Jennifer was nominated by Annette Meeks, founder and president of Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. In her nomination, Annette said: “Jennifer Parrish truly organized and continues to lead a ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle against well-funded and highly aggressive government unions in Minnesota. Her unwavering belief in freedom and the sanctity of small businesses to be free from forced unionism makes her an excellent example of the power of one to challenge and change government.”

UnsungHero2012 Jason Moore, Odessa, TX


At six-foot-six, Jason Moore is a familiar and formidable figure in West Texas, but his good-humored but tenacious demeanor is one of a servant for freedom. Moreover, the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation found one great reason after another to honor Jason as the 2012 Unsung Hero Award winner with a $25,000 check at the State Policy Network’s 2012 Annual Meeting. Many excellent candidates from around the country were nominated for the award, but Jason was a stand-out favorite for his work as an advocate for limited government, free market policies and entrepreneurship.

Jason Moore owns his own masonry business in Odessa, Texas, and became involved with the cause for greater freedom when he and his wife testified before the State Board of Education on textbooks and the lack of free-market, pro-capitalism material in public schools. Later, Jason became involved in numerous efforts with Americans for Prosperity and other freedom-driven organizations. Jason has also testified before the Texas House Public Education Committee on school facilities construction and wasteful spending (he seriously likens many school buildings to Taj Mahal-like construction). As a committed watchdog, Jason has saved millions of dollars for taxpayers by regularly attending city,
county and school board meetings (camera and mic in hand, mind you) and discouraging
tax increases.

Attributable to his particularly powerful voice for limited government, Jason capitalized on an opportunity to host a talk show on KWEL radio in Midland/Odessa and broaden his reach and influence as an advocate for the Texas taxpayer. He is known on the airwaves as “Captain Watchdog” and has recruited his wife (“Colonel Watchdog”) and their five children (“the watchdog pups”) in his investigative-style
work to uncover assaults on freedom and share his findings with his listeners. To better educate listeners on Texas spending, Jason regularly showcases his youngest “watch pup” as an example of how massive debt is diminishing the future of next-generation Texans and Americans.

With all his work to advance freedom, Jason still manages to run a successful business and keep his family first. Looking through the Lens of Liberty, Jason Moore is the purest definition of an Unsung American Hero. Congratulations to you, Jason!

UnsungHero2011Steve Schopp, Tualatin, OR


Not formally affiliated with a freedom movement organization, Steve Schopp nonetheless has a nose for government overreach—and a talent for creating coalitions that can kill inappropriate, wasteful big-government projects. Steve’s work to do just that in two separate initiatives stand out as particularly relevant to the Lens of Liberty doctrine that encourages an informed, responsible and engaged citizenry. In recognition for his work, Steve was awarded $25,000 and honored as the winner of the 2011 Unsung Hero Award at the State Policy Network’s annual meeting. Here’s Steve Schopp’s story:

A new Oregon state law gave the city of Tualatin greater power to expand a thirty-five year- old urban renewal plan, which it planned to do—with $120 million of Tualatin citizens’ money. The UR expansion plan would have relied on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for its cash, and diverted at least $250 million from essential services, including police, fire protection, and schools, over thirty-years.

Working from home, and outside his job as a contractor, Steve built a coalition of support from “special districts” (schools, parks, and public safety taxing districts) to support him in what he perceived as a blatant overreach of government. At the pivotal juncture during a town hall meeting, Steve presented the hidden downside of TIF funding—explaining that such funding by definition cannibalizes other essential city services. His presentation persuaded the mayor and metro government officials to reluctantly admit to the public they served that the UR expansion plan would indeed require either new taxes and fees OR serious cuts to essential services.

Despite the mayor’s strong support for Tualatin’s UR expansion, the measure was defeated. Until that point, urban renewal was considered something of an unstoppable bureaucratic machine in most Oregon cities.

Following his halt to Tualatin’s out-of-control urban renewal expansion, Steve began networking with police and fire associations and public school unions in an effort to locate people who, while they may be liberal on some issues, were conservative on matters of fiscal responsibility. The idea was to expand his network and spearhead a petition to require a newly-approved vehicle registration fee to go out for a public vote. The additional fees were intended to help finance an expensive light-rail moondoggle. The pro-tax groups spent $137,000 in advertising for the new tax, while Steve’s opponents to the measure spent only $3,700. In the May 2011 election, the measure was defeated 63% to 37%—clearly attributable to Steve’s work build a coalition and educate the public on fiscal responsibility in government.

More of Steve’s work to advance freedom includes a grass-roots petition initiative to first require a vote by the people to create an urban renewal project before funding a $1.5 billion light rail system. County commissioners promised $25 million for the new UR project, but only if it doesn’t go to the public for a vote. The defeat of the motor vehicle tax has shown that many citizens are far more fiscally conservative than their county commissioners—and the big-spending, over-reaching county government doesn’t like it one bit. Good job, Steve!

Steve Schopp is an inspiration to an active, knowledgeable citizenry because he fits activism for freedom around his job, and succeeds at both. He doesn’t expect a paycheck for his work to keep government in check; rather, he sees it as the responsibility of every freedom-loving American. At Lens of Liberty, we see Steve as a great example for all of us, and as the ultimate Unsung Hero!