Libertarians aim to take over a state
|Title:||Libertarians aim to take over a state...but where?|
|Author:||Bob von Sternberg|
Libertarians aim to take over a state...but where?By Bob von Sternberg 06/10/03
The libertarians are coming -- maybe to one of the Dakotas, maybe to Montana or Wyoming, maybe even to New Hampshire or Vermont. Maybe.
A plan is gaining traction among libertarians nationwide to target the most "freedom living" state with a small population, and start moving there en masse.
If all goes as planned, as many as 20,000 of them would be living in that state by the end of the decade, their numbers large enough to start affecting public policy and potentially taking over the state legislature.
"We're serious about this," said Jason Sorens, founder of the Free State Project. "It's looking very likely we'll get a lot of people to move. Whether we have political success may be less likely."
Sorens, who has a newly minted doctorate in political science from Yale, said that the number of people who have signed on nationwide is approaching 4,000. Once that number gets to 5,000, the target state will be chosen. Once the 20,000 target is reached, the moving vans are supposed to start rolling.
Ben Thompson, a handyman from New Ulm, has signed on. "In most states, the constitution and its principles have been turned on their head," he said. "So you end up with a gigantic, bloated government bureaucracy that gobbles up and wastes 50 percent of the taxpayers' money. The Founding Fathers must be turning over in their graves."
The only state he's keen on moving to is South Dakota "because I think the political atmosphere would give us a chance to do something. I don't know if this is going to work -- and if I was a betting man, I probably wouldn't bet on it."
That's probably prudent, said Lisa Disch, a political scientist from the University of Minnesota who specializes in political third parties. "It seems pretty impractical to me," she said. "Normally you try to take over an existing party. How do you impose discipline on members if you don't know whether they agree with what the leadership wants to accomplish?"
Placed in the context of the nation's third-party movements, the Free State Project "seems pretty unprecedented to me," she said. "This sounds truly odd. Almost utopian. Where would you find 20,000 people so committed to politics that they would stage such a takeover? Most people can't be bothered to go to the polls in their own neighborhood."
Born in cyberspace
The Free State Project is yet another movement born and nurtured almost exclusively in cyberspace. Sorens, 26, a libertarian since his days growing up in Houston, came up with the idea after the 2000 election, when Libertarian Party candidates were blown out nationwide. Careful to make clear that he was not formally affiliating with the party, he floated the idea in an online journal in the summer of 2001.
His readers began signing up, and Sorens quickly put up the project's Web site, complete with a mascot: a porcupine. "I thought it was kind of cute, which symbolizes the idea of live and let live, that the government should back off. Porcupines are not aggressive, but you shouldn't mess with them."
More specifically, the Free Staters want to see taxes slashed and government scaled back to the bone. Schools would be privatized. Drugs would be legalized. Gun control would be abolished. Federal aid would be spurned.
"Government should not go beyond protecting people's rights," Sorens said.
But Disch warned that, " 'Leave us alone' is not a viable political strategy. Libertarians want a limiting force, cutting back taxes and dismantling government. And it's simply impossible in this day and age to dismantle all networks of a state's responsibility. You're not going to get rid of the garbage collection."
Although many press accounts call the Free Staters' plan a "takeover," Sorens said "that's just the easiest way to describe it. I'd prefer to call it a migration of freedom-loving people."
As the number signing up has grown, his Web site has overflowed with data and analysis about the 10 states that are on the list because of their small populations; from smallest to biggest, they are Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Idaho, New Hampshire and Maine.
All have fewer than 1.5 million residents, which would give the 20,000 Free Staters a potential critical mass in steering state politics. After allying with like-minded voters already living in the state, they would take aim at the state legislature.
"We don't intend to go busting into a state and take over," said Tim Condon, a Tampa lawyer who is a member of the project's board of directors. "We'll probably be the sign-wavers, envelope stuffers and precinct walkers for people who are already there and feel the same way about political reforms that we do."
Once the Free Staters have settled in, they probably will be most like members of a service club such as the Kiwanis, he said.
Although the project has been embraced by the Libertarian Party in several of the target states, some residents are leery, calling the Free Staters members of the political fringe. Some of the media coverage the project has gotten has been downright derisive.
"A lot of that condescension comes from people who are already alienated from our ideas," Sorens said. "I think most people in the state we pick are likely to welcome us."
Added Condon: "The states under consideration are already more freedom-oriented than other states. . . . Every citizen of the free state will eventually thank heaven that their state was chosen."
He's leaning toward picking New Hampshire. South Dakota Free Stater Crystal Bogue is pulling for her home state. "Nothing happens here," she said. "Nothing happens because people like to keep to themselves and take care of their own."
For his part, Sorens won't say which state he favors "because I'm trying to stay neutral. There's a dichotomy in the group with a lot strongly western and a lot pro-eastern."
At the rate new members are signing up, Sorens said the 5,000 threshold should be reached by October; that's when voting on which of the 10 states becomes the Free State will occur. Sorens hopes the 20,000 level is reached by 2005 but cautioned that that remains a long shot. "I'd say it's 50-50 we'll get to 20,000, but the odds seem to be constantly improving."
Bob von Sternberg is at email@example.com
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