Libertarians take state for test drive
|Title:||Libertarians take state for test drive|
Libertarians take state for test drive
Movement scouting for friendly turfby Daniel Barrick 06/23/03
LANCASTER Imagine a politician who doesn't want your vote, doesn't want your money, doesn't even want you to hand out fliers door-to-door.
Instead, imagine being asked for a much more intense commitment: Pack up your belongings, leave your home and build your life around an ideal.
That's the goal of the Free State Project, an experiment in libertarian living that may soon be coming to New Hampshire. The project's leaders hope to move 20,000 followers to one state, where they'll work toward reducing the size of government and, in the process, try to show the rest of the country how far it's strayed from the days of Jefferson and Washington.
"We don't know what the hell we're doing because we've never done it before," says Elizabeth McKinstry, vice president of the Free State Project. "We're just trying to get a bunch of people who think the same way, in the same place, and see what happens."
Over the next week, a delegation will be touring New Hampshire, testing the state's receptiveness to 20,000 new residents with an agenda. After identifying the right state one with a small population and area, and a tendency toward fiscal conservatism and social liberalism the movement's members say they will run for state offices on a traditional Libertarian platform: no gun-control laws, elimination of taxes and reduction in government spending.
So far, 10 states are in the running. New Hampshire and Wyoming are the strongest contenders, according to several project members. (Alaska took a big hit when it was announced that the project's founder's wife refused to move there.)
Yesterday, the project's leaders kicked off their visit at a Lancaster campground. A group of New Hampshire Libertarians hosted the conference, trying to persuade out-of-staters that New Hampshire would make the perfect host. On Friday, the committee will meet personally with Gov. Craig Benson.
"Libertarianism is consistent with traditional New Hampshire values," says George Reich, who coordinated the welcoming committee. "But they've been eroded somewhat recently. The Free State Project would get us back to our roots."
The Free State Project claims to have attracted more than 4,000 followers. Once it reaches 5,000 people, the project's members will vote on the destination most likely by mid-July. When 20,000 people sign up by 2006 at the latest, organizers say the migration begins. The project is not being endorsed by the national Libertarian Party, but the project's leaders say that simply allows them to include even more people in their mission.
At yesterday's conference, state Libertarians stressed the advantages New Hampshire offers: a lovely seacoast and mountains, low union membership, a foreign border, no income tax.
Nick Karem, a wiry, 60-year-old Kentucky native, signed up to the Free State Project a year ago. Karem ran for office twice in his hometown of Louisville, and lost big both times. Only by sharing their strength in a single place can Libertarians hope to achieve their goals, he says.
"You're just not taken seriously in partisan races," he said.
After a day in New Hampshire, he was astounded by the state's beauty. But he's not picky.
"I don't care where we decide; I'll move anywhere," Karem said.
His wife, however, isn't at quite the same level of commitment.
"I haven't sold her on it yet," Karem said with a smile. "But I've got the best product. I'm selling freedom."
Given the group's unique mission, McKinstry said, much of her energy is spent "trying to convince people we're not loonies." She and the other leaders of the project certainly don't look like loonies. Dressed in a conservative skirt and blouse, she looked like your old third-grade teacher. Tim Condon, the project's director of member services and a lawyer from Tampa, has the reassuring manner of a television anchorman. But stereotypes dog her efforts to win a broader following, McKinstry says.
"Everyone thinks of Libertarians as the angry white male, obsessed with taxes, taxes, taxes, guns, guns, guns," she said.
She and Condon are trying to broaden the term's definition. Condon emphasized the economic advantages of libertarianism, depicting a future for New Hampshire as "America's little Hong Kong" should it be chosen as the Free State. McKinstry described how libertarianism changed her thoughts about the homeless. She enjoys the theoretical side of libertarianism, at times sounding like a graduate student in philosophy.
"In order for people to express themselves in their best possible way, they must be as free as possible to perform their actions and know what their consequences will be," she told the conference attendees. At one point, she warned them against the libertarian tendency to dwell on the negative aspect of government.
Other speakers had no problem doing exactly that, pointing out what they saw as ever-expanding encroachments on individual liberties.
"Karl Marx's theories may have been discredited, but Marxism is more than just a memory," said Dianne Gilbert, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Center for Constitutional Studies. "The American body politic bears the scars to prove it."
Gilbert talked about the "nanny government" and "the headless fourth branch" of federal agencies that control Americans' lives.
"It's the government you don't know," she said. "But you can feel its oppressiveness."
Keith Murphy, a 28-year-old Baltimore resident, said he's watched that bureaucracy up close for years. As a legislative aide in the Maryland state house, Murphy said he's constantly astounded by the waste in American politics "a culture of dependency," he calls it. Libertarianism and the Free State Project offer the only way to reverse that trend, he said. In fact, he's already planning his campaign strategies for New Hampshire.
"Everybody I've talked to has said this is the right place to be," Murphy said. "Our work in New Hampshire would already be halfway done."
Speeches by guests filled most of the morning. John Babiarz, chairman of the state Libertarian Party, stressed New Hampshire's small legislative districts, which he said are tailor-made for low-cost campaigning.
"Politics is a pastime here," he said. "This is the state where it happens one on one."
At noon, people gathered at picnic tables in the campground parking lot and ate bag lunches. They talked about the dangers of environmental regulations, Maine's slow drift toward the welfare state and international politics ("Europe's in trouble," one man huffed).
A sense of American uniqueness and its imperiled future colored nearly every conversation at the campground. Many of the Free State Project participants claimed a direct philosophical link to America's earliest revolutionaries, whose ideals they claim have been perverted over the generations.
"It takes an incredible amount of courage to be at the forefront of a movement," said Julie Anderson of Concord. "That's what the Pilgrims did, and the Founding Fathers. And that's what we're ready to do."
Anderson, her husband Wayne, and their 13-year-old daughter, Alaya, drove the two hours to Lancaster yesterday. The Andersons run a private school in Epsom that they say aims to counter the mainstream misrepresentation of American history.
"The current education system is designed to indoctrinate children into socialism," Wayne Anderson said. At his school, "We teach about the principals of liberty and the heroic nature of how America was founded."
The Andersons just finished their second year of teaching but said they're ready to give it all up for the Free State Project. They hope New Hampshire is selected, but they're willing to move anywhere for the cause of liberty.
"We could be standing here on the vortex of a movement that could radically change our futures," Wayne Anderson said.
The Free State Project's leaders are counting on that kind of passion and vision.
Trevor Snyder, a 32-year-old Canadian native, is already sold on the idea, and he wants New Hampshire as the base. He and a friend are looking to buy property in Coos or Grafton county at least 30 acres, enough land for Snyder's 13 dogs.
Snyder lives with his wife in rural Georgia and works as a technology consultant. He's applied for American citizenship solely because of the Free State Project. He left Canada for good a few years ago, after seeing what "socialism and quotas had done to the society," he says. Now he dreams of building an underground house somewhere in the White Mountains, where he can pursue his dream of freedom unfettered. Any time he feels his conviction wavering, he just looks back 225 years.
"It's hugely idealistic," he said of the project. "But so was the founding of this country."
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