Group Votes to Pick State for Experiment
|Title:||Group Votes to Pick State for Experiment|
Group Votes to Pick State for Experiment
by Kate McCann Associated Press Writer 09/21/03
CONCORD, N.H. - Some 5,000 liberty-minded Americans have been holding an election, but for a state rather than a candidate, and the one they choose will be a laboratory for what they call the biggest experiment in democracy since the Revolutionary War.
Balloting concludes Monday, and the winning state is to be announced Oct. 1. Then members of the Free State Project hope to quadruple their numbers within two years, move there, and start transforming it into a national model for small government, few laws and individual liberty.
"Projects of this kind have been done before on much larger scales," says project founder Jason Sorens, 26. He cites the Pilgrims, the Mormons and the migration of liberal, back-to-the-soil types to Vermont 30 years ago.
With a Web site http://www.freestateproject.org as a forum, members last year narrowed their choices to 10 states with small populations, libertarian tendencies and other characteristics. New Hampshire and Wyoming are considered favorites, ahead of Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Vermont, and North and South Dakota.
Supporters of New Hampshire like its relatively low dependence on federal money, lack of a general sales or income tax, and its "Live Free or Die" motto. The New Hampshire constitution also guarantees the right to revolt and does not prohibit secession. Project members say secession is not their goal, but that the provision could be a useful bargaining chip.
Wyoming scores for its tiny population, low property taxes, lack of statewide land use planning laws, and lack of "politically correct" laws such as those against hate crimes.
Strikes against New Hampshire include its lack of support for Libertarian presidential candidates and its relatively expensive political campaigns.
Though the premise of the project is that 20,000 committed individuals could be a genuine force in a small state, members bristle at the suggestion they want to "take over" a state.
"New Hampshire gets 20,000 new residents annually. So 20,000 people is not like locusts," said Vice President Elizabeth McKinstry, who lives in Michigan. "And in no state that's on our list will 20,000 people be enough to come in to 'take over.'"
Henry McElroy, a retired college professor and Republican state representative from Nashua, says the biggest change in the chosen state would be getting people involved in government.
"You should be reading, you should be studying, you should be doing a better job of understanding your place in society," he said.
Some free-staters have ruffled feathers by questioning the need to subsidize public schools and opposing laws against "victimless behaviors" such as marijuana use for medical purposes, prostitution and gambling.
That's partly why New Hampshire Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan considers the project "sort of a very fringe group that can best be described as anarchists."
One of 150 project members who already live in New Hampshire, James Maynard of Keene, has been recruiting in Massachusetts.
"With the attitude of everyone in Massachusetts, that freedom is just to their north, that would be a great source," said Maynard, 30.
Project members are mostly men and in their 20s and 30s. Roughly 10 percent are retirees; others are small-business owners. Not all are Libertarian Party members, but their principles are similar.
David Dawson, chairman of the Wyoming Libertarian Party, is a staunch project supporter. Dawson, 60, has run unsuccessfully for governor and Congress twice, and several times for the state Legislature.
"When you're a Libertarian without 20,000 liberty-oriented people in your state, it's not a race you figure on winning," he said. "But you get 20,000 people moving in here and that could change in a big hurry."
But Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, "has never gotten the impression that many (Wyoming residents) would support legalizing drugs or using secession as some sort of bargaining chip," spokeswoman Lara Azar said.
Libertarian candidates haven't done well in New Hampshire. But University of New Hampshire political scientist Mark Wrighton says the Granite State might be fertile ground for the project anyway.
"The words 'Live Free or Die' pretty much explains a lot of what goes on in New Hampshire," Wrighton said.
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