Liberty-minded activist group
|Title:||Liberty-minded activist group has eyes on Wyoming|
Liberty-minded activist group has eyes on WyomingBy Lara Azar 10/14/02
CHEYENNE With its small population, limited government and independence-inclined residents, Wyoming looks like a leading candidate for the Free State Project.
The project is just about what it sounds like. With about 1,200 members, it aims to move 20,000 "liberty-minded individuals" to a given state.
Why? So that they can form a large enough segment of its voting population to change its political nature, from its criminal codes to its tax structure to its interaction with the federal government.
And they plan to use the threat of secession as the leverage to do it.
The Free State Project is the brainchild of Jason Sorens, a 25-year-old political science doctorate candidate at Yale University.
He and his wife, Mary, will be two of the 20,000 if the project proceeds as he hopes. He is a Libertarian, but the Free State Project while certainly aligned with the party is independent of it.
"We think government is too large, too distant, and we also think that we need to get back a bit more to our constitutional principles and start to take the Constitution seriously," Sorens said, speaking recently from his home in North Carolina.
It may sound unfair, Sorens acknowledged 20,000 strangers moving to a state and essentially taking it over at the ballot box. But that is why Wyoming is a likely candidate to help them accomplish their goals, he said.
"That?s why we?re looking at states that are already pro-freedom and pro-small government," he said. "Of course we will be interested in making some changes; however, these aren?t going to be drastic changes, and we?re going to start very humbly.
"We?re not going to come in like gangbusters, obviously."
It all sounds great to Dave Dawson, the Libertarian candidate for Wyoming governor. As he has made his way up and down the campaign trail, Dawson has advocated less government at every turn.
He wants to repeal federal income tax laws and see the state pull out of everything from education to health care.
"It?s a great idea," he said. "The problem is, getting Libertarians to do something all together is a lot like herding cats."
Dawson said he would love to see the Free State Project succeed, but doesn?t think Wyoming is the place to do it. The state is not as independently minded as everyone thinks, he said.
Still, though, said Dawson: "I think it?s realistic. It?s certainly not easy."
U.S. Attorney for Wyoming Matthew Mead would not disparage the project, but he did recognize that it would have a difficult time circumventing federal law if that is the intention.
"Of course, they?re free to move to this state or any other state," Mead said. "And if they want to try to change state law, they?re free to do that. ? But they will be subject to the same federal laws as everyone else."
Data provided on the group?s Web site, www.freestateproject.org, shows that Wyoming is among the top four states considered for the move, along with Delaware, New Hampshire and Alaska.
Population is the critical factor, according to the site. Project research has found that 20,000 activists could influence only states with fewer than about 1.5 million inhabitants, or those that spend less than $10 million on political campaigns in any given election two-year cycle.
Other criteria include coastal access for trade, an existing "pro-freedom" population, a lack of dependence on federal funds and a decent job market.
It is the economy that would hurt Wyoming?s chances most, Sorens said, as is the fact that it is "landlocked" by other states. But both might be overcome, he said.
"We?ll probably actually be creating more jobs than we?re taking, in that our group is very much skewed toward professionals and business owners," Sorens said.
Secession is not the goal, Sorens said, but it is the bargaining chip.
"I doubt that any American state would actually go through with that, but the very idea of the possibility should make it easier for us to achieve concessions with the federal government," he said.
Sorens said the group faces a self-imposed deadline of September 2006 to have all 20,000 members. He hopes to have 5,000 members by September 2004, also when the state will be chosen.
"I think we have a good shot at it," he said. "But if we were unable to reach 5,000 by then, we would really have to consider whether to pursue the project."
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