Live free or move
|Title:||Live free or move|
Live free or move
by Dan Tuohy Staff Writer 10/05/03
Michael McKinzie of Colorado thinks he can find New Hampshire on a map of the country. But that is about the extent of his knowledge of the Live Free Or Die state.
"I don't know anything about New Hampshire," he said.
Devera Morgan of Texas visited last February to see if a New Hampshire winter is as brutal as they say.
"We wanted to see it at its worst," she said. "I'm not a big fan of the cold."
McKinzie and Morgan are two of about 20,000 "liberty-minded" people who plan to relocate to New Hampshire to exert their Libertarian views on state government. Their welcoming committee includes Gov. Craig Benson, a Republican, and a Libertarian Party that struggles to get its candidates on the ballot each election year.
The Free State Project picked New Hampshire as its promised land last week because of its citizen Legislature and minimalist government. Members committed to the move hunger for a political revolution, but they face political, cultural, and economic challenges.
New Hampshire looks good on paper, but do these people know what they are in for?
They want to focus their migration on the North Country, but are they ready for the long, cold winters and the highly seasonal, tourist-based economy in that region?
And other than the yokel economy, will this new group of "flatlanders" be accepted by the flinty "north of the notches" Granite Staters? Can they make a difference? Or will voters reject some of their unorthodox views, such as legalizing drugs, legalizing prostitution, and dismantling federal and state regulations?
New Hampshire has no state income tax or sales tax, but high property taxes remain a burden. Housing availability can be a challenge. And the economy, particularly in the North Country where the Free Staters want to focus their migration, is not exactly vibrant.
These are also questions for the Free Staters. But Morgan, who decided she likes winter better than the Texas heat, is optimistic. Besides checking out the weather during their visit, she and her husband, Bruce, wanted to get a feel of whether people would accept them.
"I really believe we will fit in well with the locals," she said. "I found the phrase 'Southern hospitality' was a joke when compared to the people of New Hampshire."
Morgan said she fell in love with the "live and let live attitude" of people she met.
For the Morgans, the job search is not a problem. They own a computer consulting firm. They hope to move, with their two young children, within six months.
Morgan likes Coos County, North Conway, and Keene.
McKinzie, 44, wanted the Free State Project to choose Alaska, but he is committed to moving to New Hampshire. He is happy about being close to fresh seafood.
A native of Louisiana, he has never even visited the East Coast. He has some concern about being accepted as "the new kid on the block," and expects to keep a low profile.
"I don't expect to come in like gangbusters," said McKinzie, a registered nurse.
He hopes to visit New Hampshire next summer. A single dad of three, he plans to relocate within three years, having already promised to wait for his youngest child to graduate from high school in Colorado.
The Free State Project, a nonprofit corporation chartered in Clark County, Nev., emerged in 2001 as the brainchild of Jason Sorens, 26, a political lecturer at Yale University, who wrote an essay about how Libertarians could band together to influence government.
An estimated 5,000 Free Staters will move to New Hampshire within a year, and 20,000 by 2006. While the group focused on Grafton and Coos counties, the two most northern and rural counties, members plan to move all over the state.
Elizabeth McKinstry, vice president of the Free State Project, said the members are normal people who just want to reinforce the New Hampshire way: frugal state government, respect for the constitution, and less government regulations.
"We're not taking over," she said. "Twenty-thousand is not nearly enough to take over."
But not everyone is welcoming the Free State Project.
Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said it is an extreme group with borderline anarchic positions.
She called it an anti-family agenda and pointed to a comment by Sorens, the group's founder, that the Free State Project would follow the examples of the Mormons in Utah, the French separatists in Quebec, and the conservative Amish religious communities.
"Why is Governor Benson supporting a group that wants to legalize prostitution, legalize drugs and eliminate public schools?" Sullivan asked. "A group modeled on the French separatists in Quebec?"
Some residents in the North Country have their doubts, too.
The Free State Project was the topic of debate this week at the Coos County Republican Committee. People question the nature of any group that wants to move, en masse, into their neighborhood, said Rep. David Woodward, R-Milan.
"It's going to throw up some red flags," he said. "If you moved 20,000 people here and they all voted as a bloc, they would have a big impact." Such an impact, indeed, that every state representative from Coos County could be a Libertarian.
Woodward rejects most of the Free State Project's agenda, except for the fiscal conservative component.
If people wonder about how well they will be received, Woodward added, they can look no further than how the greater numbers of Massachusetts transplants are treated in some parts of central and northern New Hampshire.
It is part of the traditional stubbornness of Granite Staters, where "flatlanders" are generally welcomed to town but advised not to rock the boat.
Michael York, New Hampshire state librarian, believes voters will reject the group's unconventional ideals, but embrace its respect for a decentralized government. The state already has a Libertarian strain, he noted.
Even if 20,000 people show up to "take over" the state, they would be just a small percentage of the statewide vote. At 424 members, New Hampshire's Legislature is the third-largest legislative body in the English speaking world. Legislative seats are apportioned based on population, so that the southern tier accounts for most lawmakers.
"It's not just a matter of politics. It's the culture; it's the climate," said York. "I don't think they can have an impact statewide."
Senate Majority Leader Robert Clegg, R-Hudson, questioned how the group would find work and housing in Grafton and Coos counties. "Maybe they'll start a tree-watching business," Clegg said.
According to the Free State Project, 44 percent of its members earn $60,000 or more a year. Most have college degrees or even post-graduate degrees, and a number are entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals.
McKinstry, who now lives in Michigan, said a number of real estate agents have already called her to help Free State members find homes.
John Babiarz, chairman of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire, rejected the radical label.
"They're not here to take over, but to add to the debate," he said. "I'm euphoric. It's like winning an election."
Babiarz, who lives in Grafton, has never won a major state office after repeated campaigns for governor and Congress.
Babiarz said Free State members would receive a support base, including briefings on local politics and how to become involved in a community. It is not much different from a normal migration of 20,000 to 30,000 people into the state, according to Babiarz.
Amanda Phillips, a 30-year-old single mother from Burlington, Mass., plans to relocate to Manchester or Nashua in about a year as a Free State member.
She has no immediate intention of quitting her job in Massachusetts as an accounting manager at Five Star Quality Care, a nursing home chain.
She likes New Hampshire for its low overall taxes and its rugged individualism. A Libertarian herself, Phillips believes Free State members are not all that different from ordinary voters.
"We don't really want to work against anybody," she said.
Morgan, who never expects to lose her Texas accent, unabashedly sticks up for some of the Free State Project's positions. She supports legalizing drugs, for example, because she thinks the war on drugs is a failure and that people should not be prosecuted for "victimless crimes."
Morgan has never been active in politics, but she hopes to engage in local politics when she moves. She knows there is only so much the Free State Project can do.
"I don't see those radical changes happening any time soon," she said.
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