Leveraging the Spirit of the West in NH
Leveraging the Spirit of the West in New Hampshire
by James Maynard
The people of the western states have a great spirit. The wide open lands seem to inspire a "Don't tread on me" fervor in many people west of the Mississippi, and east of California. Many western people tend to think of the east as being "back east", as if they moved from the Atlantic coast themselves just a while before landing in Wyoming, Montana or Idaho.
The western spirit has kept those states from adopting any wide-spread planning and zoning laws, or other regulations which stifles the freedom to ride the lands, reveling in a "don't fence me in" attitude which is greatly admired by many in the east.
As the Free State Project chooses our state, we realize that no state is perfect, and every state needs work to bring greater freedom and liberty to the people of our chosen state.
But we need to look at what battles we will have to fight in each state, and what kind of access we will have as we work together in the trenches of the political machinery of our chosen state.
If any continental western state is chosen, we will need to repeal either a sales or income tax. That would mean making changes at the state level, which would require FSP members to either gain control or influence in the state legislature and governor's office. We would be able to do it eventually, but there would be many fights and elections to get through before we have the power to change such a deeply entrenched state law. Meanwhile, the porcupines would be fought tooth and nail by big government activists (which exist in every state), who would give everyone they could the impression that we were out to hurt the elderly, children and the disabled. They would have an issue almost custom made for big government activists. And since it would take us years to get enough people or influence in the statehouse to repeal such a broad-based tax, the big-government activists would get to strike first.
But New Hampshire is the last state in the continental US without a general sales or income tax. The issues we would need to work on early in the Granite State would be eliminating planning and zoning (P&Z) laws, and reducing home schooling regulations. Exactly what the "spirit of the west" is so good at keeping at bay.
Most New Hampshire P&Z laws are regulated at the local level, where we can have the greatest influence in the shortest amount of time. In New Hampshire cities, people are allowed to sit in at committee and City Council meetings, and can speak and suggest ideas which are taken seriously just by raising their hands. Also, New Hampshire offers elections in the towns, and warrant articles in the cities every spring. With only 30 votes in Keene, for instance, one can place an issue on the ballot, which the whole city then votes on.
New Hampshire towns still use the old fashioned New England town meeting, where the citizens themselves work on what the town should be doing or not doing, and on details of the town's budget for the next year. The citizen participation and influence at these meetings is the closest thing to true democracy which exists in the country today.
Governor Benson, in a June meeting with Free State Project members, told the group that increasing school choice will be one of the next things he begins work on. For people wishing to decrease home-schooling regulations in the state, they will find an ally in New Hampshire's Governor's office.
Every time anyone tries to make a change in the political system, there will be those who will oppose them; and the changes the FSP proposes will be no exception, no matter what state we choose. But the potential supporter base for supporting P&Z laws and home schooling regulations will be much smaller than those people who will be scared by the thought of their state government losing a significant portion of its revenue. Unfriendly media will get much more mileage out of "Libertarian activists wish to slice government revenue by 30%" than they will with "Libertarian activists wish to end zoning laws".
And given the easy access for citizens in towns compared to states, we will be the ones who get to "strike first" in our P&Z fight.
And in the other issue which needs to be changed first at the state level in New Hampshire (home schooling regulations), we will have the most powerful person in the state on our side.
The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire has done an admirable job at helping to keep a general sales or income tax from taking root in New Hampshire. But part of the cost of that has been a slow creeping of zoning laws and home schooling regulations, although 10% of New Hampshire municipalities have no such laws. This is where New Hampshire needs people who believe in the "spirit of the west".
With people who have lived with the "spirit of the west", who believe in the phrase "Don't fence me in", the current P&Z laws in New Hampshire cities and towns do not have long left to exist on the books. With help from above and below, home schooling regulations in the state will quickly be squeezed in the middle.
No matter which state we choose, we will have a fight ahead of us. But working for greater liberty in the areas of zoning and home schooling will prove easier than a fight against a broad-based tax, and will allow us an instant say in how changes are made, without having to win office first. The issues which big-government forces will have to use against will also prove much weaker in the case of New Hampshire than in a western state.
New Hampshire Where the fight is easier, faster and leaves our opponents the least effective tools to use against us. In New Hampshire, we can leverage the western strengths to tremendous advantage. But we need the "spirit of the west" to help us win.