NH said a front-runner
|Title:||N.H. said a front-runner for libertarian splinter group|
|Publication:||Foster's Sunday Citizen|
N.H. said a front-runner for libertarian splinter group
by Dean Abbott Staff Writer 07/13/03
Like most mothers, Michelle Dumas is concerned about the kind of society her young daughter will grow up in. "I want to raise my daughter in a place free from violent crime, where she will have access to high quality education, and where personal responsibility is inherent in the culture," Dumas said.
Concern for the kind of society where her daughter will grow up is one of the reasons why the 33-year-old Somersworth woman joined the Free State Project after discovering the group on the Internet about 18 months ago.
According to the group's Web site, the Free State Project is a group dedicated to "the effort to sign up 20,000 advocates of limited government to move to a single state" with the goal of influencing public policy in that state. The group hopes to concentrate the political efforts of its libertarian-leaning constituency in a state with a small enough population where 20,000 activists could make a difference.
And make a difference they could. University of New Hampshire Political Science Instructor David Corbin said an influx of 20,000 focused activists could have a tremendous impact on New Hampshire politics. "The world could be theirs in New Hampshire," he said.
While the short list of options for where the group may be headed currently contains 10 states, including Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming, New Hampshire is a front-runner to be chosen as the destination state when the group votes in little more than a month, said Dumas, who serves the group as a media coordinator.
If New Hampshire is chosen, some members would begin moving here immediately though none are obligated to come for five years. Members of the group would likely settle across the state since they will not be required to live in any particular region.
The project's Web site describes the political position of many of its members. "Most FSP members support policies such as the abolition of all income taxes, elimination of regulatory bureaucracies, repeal of most gun control laws, repeal of most drug prohibition laws, complete free trade, decentralization of government, and wide-scale privatization."
The group began its drive to recruit members all of whom promise to move to a particular state in September 2001, hoping to reach 5,000 commitments by September 2004. The project's founders planned to hold a member vote to select the target state once membership reached the 5,000 mark.
The group has beaten its goal date by more than a year. The number of people who have joined so far is about 4,500. The group plans to hold its vote in on Aug. 15.
"New Hampshire has seemed to be in the lead, or one of the states in the lead since the beginning of the project, and there are good reasons for that," Dumas said.
Dumas gave several reasons why New Hampshire is attractive to FSP members, but first among these is New Hampshire's long-standing tradition of limited government and self-reliance. "New Hampshire has a spirit of independence that has survived 200-plus years. It's almost legendary" Dumas said.
UNH's Corbin echoes this observation. "A lot of people when they think of New Hampshire, they think of 'Live Free or Die.' It's part of life here, it's on our license plate, and it means something," he said.
Corbin said this political spirit stretches back to the beginnings of the United States. "At the founding," he said, "some states incorporated a much more centralized view of government and others a much more Jeffersonian (view), ... that emphasized decentralization. New Hampshire had a Jeffersonian upbringing."
FSP members like Dumas are advocating within the group to persuade other voters to select New Hampshire in the upcoming election. "New Hampshire is a state where the values of small government and self-reliance are already primary in the culture. Since what the Free State Project is seeking to do is to find a state where these values are already inherent in the culture, New Hampshire seems like the number one choice. I'm optimistic that New Hampshire will be the choice. Very optimistic," she said.
Part of the efforts aimed at persuading FSP members to choose New Hampshire in the August election involved a recent convention in Lancaster. "People came to New Hampshire from all over the country. Many went around the state speaking to individuals they came into contact with, and the reports that came back to me were that nearly everyone was receptive to the Free State Project," Dumas said.
Jason Sorens, president of the Free State Project, said there are more tangible reasons than just a tradition of independent spirit that might make New Hampshire a good destination for the group. "Many think New Hampshire is best for us because it has low taxes and a strong anti-tax movement, a wide range of personal freedoms, a strong tradition of local democracy, and low dependence on federal government subsidies," he said.
Sorens also said New Hampshire has attracted the attention of the Free State Project because it has "resisted some trends in other states toward controlling people's private lives. For example, New Hampshire has no motorcycle helmet law and no seat belt laws for adults."
Many factors making New Hampshire an attractive place for Free Staters are institutionalized in the way New Hampshire is governed. Dumas said the nature of the New Hampshire Legislature is a good example; "We have a 400-member Legislature. It offers the best representation in the nation. The government is closer to the people. Even more important is that we pay our legislators only $100 a year, so we end up with a government of the people."
Corbin said the state's Constitution reflects a strong view of individual rights as well. "When you look at the New Hampshire state Constitution you see it's divided into two major parts. The first part is a Bill of Rights. The second part is the form of government. So, when the framers of the New Hampshire Constitution framed it, they purposely began by stating what the individual rights were before turning to a discussion of what form of government would be necessary to secure those rights."
Sorens pointed to New Hampshire's practice of allowing political candidates to run on two separate party lines as an attractive political tradition. This practice, he said, "would allow us to have direct access to the Statehouse. We could run people who are Libertarians and they could also get the Republican nomination and pick up Republican voters and, of course, the same thing could be done with Democrats."
New Hampshire's most well-known political event, its presidential primary, is not a major draw for the Free Staters, according to Sorens. "Some members would say it matters, but for most it is a positive, but relatively minor consideration, because we're focused on state politics."
One issue sure to be contentious should FSP members' move to New Hampshire is education. "Currently, our educational system is really a government monopoly. What we would want to do is create more school choice, to return educational decisions back to the hands of the parents," Dumas said.
FSP members have ranked the desirability of the 10 candidate states by a variety of factors. One of those desirability factors concerns states with fewer members in the National Education Association, a nationwide union and professional association for educators. New Hampshire tied with Idaho for first place in this category. Terry Shumaker, executive director of the New Hampshire NEA, was puzzled by this fact. "I'm surprised by that statement." he said, "We have over 14,000 active members in New Hampshire. We're the largest education association in the state."
Sorens said ranking the state's by NEA membership was a way of trying to measure how open the area would be to the group's efforts to introduce full school choice. "The NEA has generally opposed any efforts toward educational choice or competition, so a state with a higher NEA membership would be less fruitful ground for those policies" he said.
Shumaker said the New Hampshire NEA "doesn't necessarily oppose it (school choice) so long as the field is level." A level playing field, Shumaker said, means that "if public money is going to go to a school, then the same requirements should be placed upon any school receiving public funds," he said.
Sorens claimed introducing full educational competition and choice would "lead to higher quality schools at lower costs just as other markets are better off when they are freed from government monopoly control."
If New Hampshire is chosen as the destination state for Free State Project members, some members have pledged to move here immediately, though none would be obligated to move here for five years. Consequently, quality of life projections have been important to the group. "New Hampshire has a very strong job market, and areas of New Hampshire have affordable real estate. I don't have any worries about being able to assimilate into New Hampshire both economically and culturally" Sorens said.
Dumas indicated that Free Staters moving to New Hampshire could benefit the state. "It is my impression," she said, "that people in the Free State Project tend to be overwhelmingly entrepreneurial, so they would be moving here and creating new opportunities and jobs."
If New Hampshire should be chosen by the Free State Project and even if all 20,000 members should move to the state, Corbin wonders how effective they would be. "Libertarian thought rests on the idea of 'leave me alone'" he said. "When you get a bunch of those people together, how do you get them organized?"
Corbin says the activist's ability to organize is even more important than their numbers. "To say 20,000 people move to the state and the game is over, I think, is incorrect, but if 20,000 move to the state with means to support the activities you need to do in politics, they could have a tremendous impact," he said.
When asked about what the official response from the state would be should FSP members choose New Hampshire and begin moving here, Chris Reid, a staff member for Governor Craig Benson said "As long as they believe in the rule of law, I can't imagine the governor being opposed to anybody moving to New Hampshire because of their political beliefs. The sign at the border say 'Welcome' and we mean it."
Because FSP's plans are not yet firm, some New Hampshire members, though hoping to stay put, are preparing to move should another state be chosen. Dover member George Reich, 45, said "I think freedom is more important than living in a particular state. I would be willing to move to another state to be a part of this."
These media articles are maintained on a non-commercial basis by The Free State Project, a non-profit organization, for historical, educational, scholarship, and research purposes. (For information regarding "Fair Use", see US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107).