The chosen state
|Title:||The chosen state|
The chosen stateby Albert McKeon Telegraph Staff email@example.com 10/02/03
Photo by The Concord Monitor
Won't you be their neighbor?
After considerable deliberation, a group of libertarians has chosen New Hampshire as a home base to forward its ideal of bare-bones government.
Now the 5,454 members of the Free State Project must encourage 15,000 other liberty-minded Americans to join the movement and, if they're not here already, move to the Granite State.
Free State leaders announced Wednesday that New Hampshire had bested nine other states in a polling of the group's membership. The former home of the solitary Old Man of the Mountain topped second-place Wyoming by 10 percentage points on the ballot's ranking scale.
With one hurdle cleared, the group now needs to quadruple its membership and ultimately assimilate in a state known for its bitter winters and frosty Yankees.
"Some people have been waiting to see what was going to happen once we reached this milestone," said Free State member and Nashua resident Rich Tomasso. "This isn't a pipe dream. We're serious about it, and the project will now go full steam ahead. We'll see where it goes from here."
Not all members consider themselves libertarians; some register as Republicans and a few as Democrats. They espouse a variety of causes - gun rights and decriminalization of marijuana, for instance - but they all dream of an unobtrusive government that privatizes all but the most essential services.
The group has not only expanded its ranks over the past year, but has held an internal debate over its future home state. Members posted treatises on the group Web site and met at bookstore cafes debating the merits of the 10 states.
Local members have long favored this state, partly because they wouldn't have to uproot their lives but mainly because of the state's fiscal and social conservatism. These members apparently made a strong case to their compatriots across the country: You can live free or die in New Hampshire.
"We're not going to stop promoting the project," Tomasso said. "There's a target now. We know where we're going, so we can focus."
Some Free State members who already reside here gathered Wednesday night at a Concord restaurant to celebrate New Hampshire's victory.
Now with the party over, they will start helping newcomers negotiate the housing market and other particulars, Tomasso said. The group hopes to reach the 20,000-member mark within three years, and members would in theory start moving here then. Some, though, have already expressed a desire to come sooner, Tomasso said.
If the group does fulfill its mission, can and will New Hampshire accept thousands of newcomers who also happen to have libertarian stripes?
First, those moving here will need a place to live. The housing market may work in their favor right now, according to a local real estate agent.
James Goddard, owner of Coldwell Banker Ashton-Kilgore Inc., sees the market slowing. Despite a sour economy the past few years, people had continued investing in property as they sought profitable returns, Goddard said. But those investors are now pulling out of real estate, he said.
If Free State members need homes, Goddard said "that would be wonderful."
"We need something to bridge the gap for Realtors," he said. "There are a lot of multi-family homes coming onto the market now."
Once housed, where would Free State members work?
Though Free Staters might be perceived in some circles as loners intent on a simple existence, the organization's leaders consider their members a "largely young, well-educated, upwardly mobile group." Fifty percent of members have at least a bachelor's degree, and 44 percent earn $60,000 or more annually, with many members employed in the high-tech industry, the group said.
Jobs have increased only slightly over the past two years, said Peter Bartlett, an economist for the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.
"They're certainly moving into New Hampshire when we've suffered significant losses in manufacturing and high-tech equipment," Bartlett said. "But we're expecting it to grow. If they can hit the cycle just right, maybe (the state) can find jobs for new workers."
Free State members interested in the high-tech field would have to live in southern New Hampshire, Bartlett said. If members favor living in sparsely populated Coos and Grafton counties - as some have indicated - then the low population would work in their favor but they would have difficulty finding work, he said.
"I don't know what will happen if they have to go to Massachusetts for work," Bartlett said of a state not known for its libertarian values.
As for their stated goal of transforming politics, Free State members would have the best success holding seats in the Legislature, said Saint Anselm College political science professor Dante Scala.
Scala wonders if Free State members will form their own party, join a Libertarian movement that hasn't met great success in New Hampshire, or side with Republicans.
"They have to keep a balance assimilating into a larger community," Scala said. "If they're assimilated, they don't keep the group identity but they don't come off as outsiders. We have a pronounced sense of 'native' and 'non-native' even though we see quite a lot of movement in population."
And Free State members have not yet functioned together in one state, Scala said. A myriad of factors can break groups apart, he said.
"Assuming this all gels ... you don't know how they work with each other," he said. "They come from across the country. How do you stay on the same page or same agenda? What if not everyone agrees on (decriminalizing) marijuana?"
Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832
What is the Free State Project?
The Free State Project is an initiative aiming to curb government while promoting personal liberties. It has 5,454 members, and wants to attract about 15,000 more like-minded people from across America in the next two years before assimilating into New Hampshire government and culture. Members chose the Granite State over nine other states because of its fiscal and social conservatism.
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).