What they billed as an “anti-poverty summit” in Washington on Monday was a road map. Up on stage, three decades later, was none other than Mr. Woodson, a titan in conservatism on poverty issues. A veteran of the civil-rights fight, Mr. Woodson became disenchanted with the left’s devotion to failed government poverty programs. He started the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which transforms low-income areas from the inside out.
The philosophy is that low-income individuals and neighborhood organizations must play the central role in fixing their communities, and that these efforts benefit from free-market concepts like competition, entrepreneurship, efficiency and metrics. His first federal partner was Kemp, who embraced and evangelized the Woodson approach starting in the 1980s, using it to pass smart reforms, to champion innovations like “enterprise zones,” and to give his party a model for inspirational, anti-poverty politics. (A model his party quickly forgot.)
Joining Mr. Woodson on stage was (who else?) House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, a Kemp protégé who a few years ago became awed by CNE’s remarkable track record. The Wisconsin Republican worked the method into a new policy agenda, including his proposal last year to combine and transform federal poverty programs into “opportunity grants” that go to the states, and allow local administrators to get money to groups that actually work.